Andrea Pirlo Has Been Benched While Earning More Than NYCFC's Salary Cap

The MLS Designated Player Rule allows teams to sign a few stars, but too often the money could be better spent.

Andrea Pirlo was left out of the NYCFC lineup for the third straight week despite receiving a salary ($5.915 million) that’s greater than his entire club’s actual salary cap ($3.85m). 

How is that possible? Since David Beckham’s jaunt with the LA Galaxy in 2007, MLS has massaged salary cap rules to allow for an infusion of a few star players on each team. This clause, now dubbed the Designated Player Rule, has been seen as a necessary way for MLS to draw in fans and ultimately raise its revenue to compete with other leagues. 

Pirlo’s enormous salary actually only hits the team’s cap for $480k (as is the case with all DPs), a reasonable percentage for an aging legend who certainly contributed to NYCFC’s success last year while growing their brand. However, his recent benching reflects a greater problem than the soon to be 38 year old’s diminishing form. 

NYCFC will pay its players nearly $17 million in guaranteed salary in 2017, second most in the league to Toronto FC. Pirlo, David Villa, and Maximiliano Moralez will receive $13.5 million combined, exactly 80% of their team’s payroll. It’d be virtually impossible for them to match their salaries with proportionate contributions on the field. Instead, a handful of players making as little as $53K (not far exceeding the cost of living in Manhattan) are chipping in.


If a team like NYCFC is willing to spend $17 million on players, then MLS Commissioner Don Garber should let management spend the money as it sees fit. It’s not 2007 anymore. MLS has long-term TV deals in place with ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and Univision. Stars can effectively attract fans to the league, but they’ll only stick around if the quality on the pitch improves. 

The boom or bust mentality of MLS player acquisition is immature. Instead of signing the likes of Pirlo and Villa, NYCFC could attract several players from Ligue 1, Liga MX or South America. The English Premier League's Burnley players make an average of $1.26 million per season. Instead of Villa and Pirlo, NYCFC could sign nine average Burnley players (excluding transfer fees, which won’t be prohibitive for that type of player).

With all due respect to the legends that NYCFC employs, I’ll take my chances with nine average Burnley players any day. And more importantly, I’d rather watch Burnley play than see a few vintage Villa goals and the ghost of Pirlo drifting through the midfield.

MLS needs to trust that its fans are better than needing a former World Cup star (see Kaka) to tune in and turn up to the games. Even Pirlo agrees.  

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