Red Bulls facing pressure of high payroll in playoffs

Thierry Henry is one of three designated players on the Red Bulls' roster.

The Yankees of American soccer are looking to win their first ever MLS Cup.

Without a major trophy in their 17 years as a franchise, the Red Bulls certainly have been among the most snake bitten sides in MLS. But in recent history, no team in the league has tried harder to rectify that situation by throwing money at the problem. In the strange world of MLS, each team is allowed three designated players, whose salaries count only partially against the $2.81 million salary cap.

Marquee players, such as the Galaxy’s David Beckham, who bring star power on and off the field, often fill such slots.

The Red Bulls have three designated players in Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill, making them the highest spending side in the league. In terms of compensated salaries, the Red Bulls shell out just over $16.5 million for their 30-man roster with the vast chunk of that going to the designated players.

“I’m not sure I can say we’re the most talented roster in the league. We have of course some good players, that’s for sure. It’s a number of teams in this league who are talented. It is so even so it’s difficult to say that one team or another is the most talented,” head coach Hans Backe said.

Following Saturday’s 1-1 result at RFK Stadium, the Red Bulls will host D.C. United in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight. Their $3.8 million in guaranteed salary is one-fourth of New York’s payroll, and yet they’re finding success.

Neither Cahill nor Henry felt that there was pressure on the Red Bulls to win given the stars on their roster.

Backe said on Tuesday that this is the best Red Bulls team he’s had in what is now his third year with the club, and that includes 2010 when they overachieved and won the conference. But in terms of talent, he isn’t ready to say that the league’s most expensive side ever is the most talented.

“When you talk about payrolls … it’s for three players, but three
players doesn’t make a team,” Backe said. “Otherwise we have the same
salary cap as anyone so I can’t really agree [those players mean the Red
Bulls should win titles].”

Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.


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