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Performance-related pay for TFC
March 11, 2009, 7:25 AM
Filed under: Toronto FC

In soccer, as in all professions, there is an agreed rate for the job.

The compensation is based on a number of criteria, including age, experience and skill plus, to an extent, a perceived market value. Generally speaking, an impact player – one who scores or creates goals – will earn more than a defensive midfielder or a full-back.

A striker, for example, is the one who will finish the chances, receive the fans’ adulation, grab the media headlines, sell more replica jerseys and collect the biggest cheque because of his value to the organisation.

This practice might seem a little insensitive on his teammates who, after all, did all the donkey work setting up the opportunity in the first place. But soccer’s like that.

To put it bluntly, goal-scorers don’t come cheap, so long as they do what they’re employed to do.

Toronto FC has made significant moves over the winter to ensure goal-scoring is no longer the precious commodity it has been during the club’s first two years in Major League Soccer.

Dwayne De Rosario is a proven winner in MLS and comes home to Canada as the team’s top earner. His career goals and assists stats speak for themselves and it has taken GM Mo Johnston well over two years to put together a package acceptable to both De Rosario and his former team Houston.

It is the policy of Major League Soccer not to disclose the wages of individual players, but the MLS Players’ Union is not so coy about the figures. Based on union figures released last week, De Rosario will earn $357,000 US in 2009 – one of only four TFC players who will top $300,000 US this year.

The others are, in alphabetical order: Amado Guevara; Carl Robinson; and Pablo Vitti. Call me naive if you will, but I’m having trouble with the final name on that list.

Vitti has everything on his resume to justify the salary, except one key item. He’s young, fit, technically gifted, South American and hungry. What’s missing, of course, is the one vital qualification for the job – a record of goal-scoring consistency.

Johnston has forgotten more about how to score goals than I will ever know and should be able to spot a talented forward at a glance. It’s been well documented he tried to sign Vitti last year on the evidence of his performance for his parent club, Independiente, in an international friendly at BMO Field.

The kid’s got potential, there’s no question about that. But surely, at age 23, it’s time to translate the potential into goals. Scoring them is an art and, for every good artist, there is a premium to pay.

Clearly, Toronto FC and MLS had to make it worth Vitti’s while to re-locate to North America but, in a league so strictly governed by a self-imposed salary cap, it’s a hefty financial commitment for a player whose most productive years to date were as a teenager.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope for the sake of the team Vitti makes a major impact and, if he scores 10-15 goals in 2009, he will have been worth every cent. But before a ball is kicked, is he truly worth roughly $100,000 US a year more than Chad Barrett, who scored nine goals and added seven assists in 2008?

Right now, it’s a question without an answer. All I hear are positive things about how good he looks in practice, how his flair and skill is a class apart. I have no doubt it’s all true. But for now, it’s all a rehearsal.

When the curtain rises on opening day Pablo Vitti will have to show us he’s worthy of the lead role. And when the reviews are in, I hope his performances validate the salary and then some. If so, Toronto FC can plan for a golden summer. If not, the post-match dressing room may become an uncomfortable sanctuary.

Just ask Jeff Cunningham.

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