MLS Castrol Index & Salary Data Analysis: Best Clubs Spend More

Upon completion of Major League Soccer’s (“MLS”) regular season, Business of Soccer analyzed Castrol Index data alongside the league’s salary figures to identify value players.  In connection with the completion of the postseason yesterday, the analysis below examines the value achieved by each club.

League Champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy, generated the most points, while the Columbus Crew (the “Crew”) generated the most value per Castrol Index points earned.  Furthermore, trend analysis indicates that regardless of value achieved, clubs with higher payrolls are more successful.

Note that for purposes of this analysis, value is defined as total compensation paid for players included within the Castrol Index, divided by total Castrol Index points, or a return on investment of sorts.

Data Courtesy Castrol & MLSPU ; Analysis by Business of Soccer

Data Courtesy Castrol & MLSPU ; Analysis by Business of Soccer

As noted above, the Crew obtained the most value when considering the salaries of their players registered in the Castrol Index, and their respective Castrol Index points.  Despite having the third lowest payroll in MLS, the Crew finished third in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, before bowing out to eventual Eastern Conference Champs, the New England Revolution.  The two clubs immediately following the Crew were the Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA.  These clubs performed significantly worse in failing to qualify for the postseason by a considerable margin, an indication of the smart spending and commendable performance by the Crew this season.

The graph below flips the ranking, showing the teams that received the least value considering compensation spend and Castrol Index points generated.  In other words, the clubs below earned the lowest return on investment for the cost of their players.

Data Courtesy of Castrol & MLSPU ; Analysis by Business of Soccer

Data Courtesy of Castrol & MLSPU ; Analysis by Business of Soccer

By looking at the classification in reverse order, a prevailing, albeit logical, trend is evident: generally speaking, clubs that spend more do better.  Groundbreaking? Maybe not, but still a statistic that speaks volumes, at least for this year: clubs with costlier rosters did better.

Notably, players acquired after the commencement of the regular season, like Jermaine Jones, were not factored into the Castrol Index.  Thus, both their Castrol Index Points, and their associated compensation amounts, are not factored into the analysis above.  Taking Jones’ salary ($3.25M) into consideration would bring the New England Revolution’s compensation just behind the New York Red Bulls, at just about $6.5M.  So four of the top five clubs with the highest payrolls made the Conference Finals; in other words, it further illustrates the trend that more expensive rosters perform better.


Reasonably, this is not a perfect argument.  For example, the top spending team, Toronto FC, greatly underachieved this season after big name acquisitions in the offseason of Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe.  One could also argue that last year, Sporting Kansas City won the League championship without breaking the bank.  There are also some clubs with smaller compensation spend that had solid campaigns, like the Crew, DC United, Real Salt Lake, and FC Dallas.  Nevertheless, these clubs failed to crack the top 4 in the postseason, a spot reserved for the higher spending clubs in the League.

This is an important trend that MLS clubs need to monitor going forward; if clubs with the carefully chosen, experienced, but costly designated players continue to dominate well into the postseason, then it might be wise to look into an acquisition sooner rather than later.

It appears that clubs that spend the most through Designated Players are making the difference when it counts the most (i.e, Robbie Keane, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, etc.).  It pays to spend.

What’s your take on the data?  Are designated players the difference in MLS?  Is this year’s data the exception or the rule?  Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.