While Gio and Pineda Face Off, the MLS Should Strive to Overhaul Unequal Salaries

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The MLS playoffs kick off today when the Seattle Sounders take on the Los Angeles Galaxy at CenturyLink Field. The one-game Knockout round will decide who gets to beef it out with the No. 1 Western team, FC Dallas, in order to advance to the Conference Final. Although the No. 1 to No. 12 teams are all still playing for the MLS Cup, looking at the stats and actual point differences (quite small) between the teams makes it clear that they will be very tight playoffs.

In addition to the exciting upcoming games, now add the Mexican duel factor happening tonight: Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos vs. Gonzalo Pineda.

Gonzalo Pineda is a former Pumas and Chivas player that seemed to be on the road to big things. If you don’t believe me, just look at this Panenka goal he scored against Argentina in the 2005 Confederations Cup Semifinal when he was just 23.

Pineda also started in the first three games of La Volpe’s Mexican squad for the 2006 World Cup, and came in as a substitute in the fourth game against Argentina. It was he, in fact, who failed to block Maxi Rodriguez’s amazing goal, which put the Celestes in the next round. After the 2006 World Cup, he started to slowly fade away. He was loaned to San Luis, Cruz Azul, Puebla, and Queretaro, until the Seattle Sounders finally bought him, where he currently makes $160k a year.

For simple mortals like us, that might be a lot of money, but for a soccer player with World Cup experience that is far from exciting, especially when Giovani Dos Santos, the other Mexican who will be on the field, is making more than $4 million per season – 25 times more than Pineda.

The contrast in salaries between the two Mexican players that will be on the field tonight highlights one of the MLS’ biggest problems. While the league is doing well by offering hefty payments to Designated players, bringing great talent and growing the U.S. fan base, it’s not doing so well with many (perhaps most) of its players.

A New York Times article showed how a third of the League’s payroll went to the top seven Designated players. It also gave examples of some MLS players who still qualify for affordable housing programs and have multiple jobs. The article was written for the 2014 season, but it is highly unlikely that things have changed that much, especially with the arrival of many more superstars from Europe. Most rookie players – and even some experienced ones – make around $40K. Servando Carrasco, for example, Alex Morgan’s husband and current Kaká teammate at Orlando City, has been in the MLS since 2011, but is reported to make $44K.

The MLS has come a long way, but these numbers are proof that it still has a long way to go, in order to catch up not only with other sports in the United States, but also with other soccer leagues around the world.

So when Giovani Dos Santos and Gonzalo Pineda battle it out tonight like the professionals they are, let’s not forget that an important fight also has to take place off the pitch, so that the 22 players on the field are truly on equal terms.