A report by FourFourTwo earlier this week from the MLS SuperDraft revealed that Minnesota United made a strong offer to try and pry Kevin Molino away from Orlando City. The Lions turned down the offer, which we said was a smart play on City’s part due to the Trinidadian midfielder’s importance in the side.
One issue raised in the FFT report, however, was that of Molino’s contract.
The story indicated that Molino believes he deserves a pay raise, but other financial issues — such as the $420,000 base salary of David Mateos, among others — have prevented Orlando City from bumping The Original’s pay grade to this point. So, with these points being brought up, the question for today is: Does Kevin Molino deserve a raise? (We’ll try to answer simply based on on-field merit; I’ll leave it to the Lions front office to maneuver through the financial hoops necessary to make a hypothetical raise happen.)
A look at Molino’s production from 2016 quickly leads one to believe that yes, he does indeed deserve a raise from his $110,000 base salary.
In 30 appearances in ’16, Molino scored 11 goals while chipping in eight assists. That adds up to 19 total goals in which Molino had a hand, which puts him level with Kaká and among the elite midfielders in MLS in terms of production. The other non-Kaká midfielders in the league to total 19 or more goals and assists last season were Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti (23 total), Portland’s Diego Valeri (21), RSL’s Joao Plata (21), SKC’s Benny Feilhaber (20), and MLS assist king Sacha Kljestan of NYRB (26, 20 of which were assists). Molino broke out and established himself among a small group of players at his position that were able to generate the level of attacking success that he did.
Bolstering Molino’s case further is that, of the six aforementioned midfielders other than Molino, all but one of them benefited more from scoring on penalty kicks than Molino — Kljestan equaled Molino with one penalty goal, but Kaká (4), Valeri (4), Piatti (3), Plata (2), and Feilhaber (5) all scored more. A penalty goal counts for same on the scoreboard as a goal from open play, but there is much to be said about being able to create goals naturally without the assistance of a critical defensive mistake in the box.
Molino is easily the lowest-paid player of that bunch. Now, three of those players — Kaká ($6.6M base), Valeri ($600,000), and Piatti ($425,000) — are Designated Players, meaning they’re always going to be among their team’s or even the league’s highest-paid players, whether they produce like them or not (hello, Bryan Róchez). The others in that group are more experienced and have proven themselves to a higher degree in MLS; Kljestan has nearly 30 goals and almost 70 assists across seven MLS seasons and played for Anderlecht for five other seasons, Feilhaber has 76 combined goals and assists in six MLS seasons, and Plata has also played six years in MLS with 68 total goals and assists to his name.
However, saying that Molino doesn’t deserve to be paid quite as richly as more-established midfielders doesn’t mean that he hasn’t earned a raise. His production speaks for itself and warrants a bump in salary. One look around the Lions’ payroll and it’s easy to see how Molino could feel slighted — Mateos, Brek Shea ($550,000 base, 3G/6A in two seasons with OCSC), Kevin Alston ($130,000), and the now-departed Adrian Winter ($180,000, 5G/3A in 22 career MLS appearances) are a few examples of less valuable on-field production being paid more handsomely than Molino.
Molino’s relative lack of experience can be used against him, though. He’s played one full season at the MLS level after an ACL tear shortened his debut 2015 season, and although he was a talisman for the Lions in their USL triumphs, that was still USL and not MLS. One could argue that a “prove it” year could be in order, and Molino’s production did dip toward the end of the year with only two goals and a single assist coming after July.
But ultimately, Molino’s production is rare for a midfielder in this league, and at 26 he’s got several years of his prime yet to come, meaning that Orlando City will need to reward him in order to secure his services during those peak seasons. As Minnesota’s huge draft day offer proves, other clubs have taken notice of how good Molino can be.
Orlando City knows how good he is, and it seems like they want to pay him more to reflect that. Now it just needs to happen.