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What MLS salaries tell us about Real’s center back search

Where do great center backs come from? The answer may be different than you’d think.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

For the past few seasons, one prize has eluded Craig Waibel and RSL above all else: a top-level centerback. There have been some close calls and some maybes, but much to the angst of the fan base they have been unable to lock anyone down.

Presumably the search continues, and with the release of MLS salaries I thought it might be prudent to look at the cost of an effective CB tandem, as well as identify the mechanisms by which the duos were obtained. So far this season the top 5 teams in goals allowed (it’s not the best metric maybe, but it’s something) have been Sporting Kansas City and Dallas, followed by Orlando City, NYCFC, and Toronto. The following are their center back pairings, salaries, and the way they were acquired:

FC Dallas

Matt Hedges - 424K - Superdraft

Walker Zimmerman - 205K- Superdraft

Sporting Kansas City

Matt Besler - 758k - Superdraft

Ike Opara - 150k - Trade with San Jose

Orlando City

Jonathan Spector - 611k - from Birmingham City, English Championship

Tommy Redding - 117k - Homegrown


Maxime Chanot - 383k - from K.V. Kortrijk, Belgium Pro League

Alexander Callens - 180k - from Numancia, Spanish second division


Nick Hagglund - 109k - Superdraft

Drew Moor - 261k - Free Agency

Eriq Zavaleta - 133k - Trade with Seattle


  • 4 of the 11 came via the Superdraft, 3 from outside the league, 2 from trades within the league, 2 from free agency, and 1 is a homegrown.
  • Hedges and Zimmerman are the best return on investment at a combined salary of 630k. They’ve held down fort for one of the best defenses in the league, and cost less than Columbus’ injured Jonathan Mensah (844k)
  • Toronto play a back three and also have the lowest average price
  • Non of the outside signings are from “top” european leagues

Takeaways for RSL

  • You don’t have to spend big for a solid center back. Opara has been incredible this year and was obtained through intraleague trade. Moor anchors the TFC backline and was brought in on a respectable, but well below a TAM level contract.
  • If TAM is spent it should be on a player, not a pedigree. Despite not playing at the most recognizable clubs, the overseas players were well scouted and fit well with the role they were brought into. A cerebral but aging center back like Spector is a perfect complement to a young defender like Tommy Redding.
  • Real might be better off developing from within. Justin Schmidt has had growing pains, but has shown well in limited playing time. Tanner Dieterich is an RSL academy product playing at Clemson who has been part of the US youth setup. While neither provide a quick fix, both have potential to be long term solutions.

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!