ESPN play-by-play man Glenn Davis called it "the most expensive match in Major League Soccer history."
Davis was referring to last Saturday's late-night pairing between Red Bull New York and the Los Angeles Galaxy, which the Union will host tonight at PPL Park. Five designated players between the two teams and a combined club salary average closing in on $440,000 per player battled to a 1-1 tie at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
It's an expense that towers over the current average salary of the Union ($131,876), whose manager Peter Nowak firmly believes that a young, talented corps trumps the high-priced superstar. MLS salary figures released over the weekend show the Union average salary as the sixth highest in the league. Paltry, however, in comparison to the visiting Galaxy, whose average of $428,625 arrives with a bit of a serious curve. Its three major stars, midfielders David Beckham ($6.5 million guaranteed), Landon Donovan ($2.3 million) and forward Juan Pablo Angel ($1.25 million), have paid dividends as the Galaxy sits atop the Western Conference.
"I don't understand how that works. I mean, you have these three guys making millions within a tight salary cap, what do you pay the other 22 guys with, peanuts?" Nowak said at a recent press conference. "I think designated players are a short-term solution and I would never fall for that."
By comparison, the Union have only two players making over a quarter-million, both newcomers, goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon ($396,667) and forward Carlos Ruiz ($306,671). In the true spirit of blue collar, there are starters on the Union roster who either earn or pull a little over the MLS minimum of $42,000, the biggest steal being defender Sheanon Williams (league minimum).
Yet, the Union lurk just behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings as an unbreakable defensive corps and budding offense sit in a tie for second place - with games in hand - heading into tonight's white collar vs. blue collar clash.
"With us coming off a loss to Portland and LA getting the tie against New York, we both want to win this game," Ruiz said. "It doesn't matter who we are playing, we want to win tomorrow. Everyone expects so much from LA because of the players they have, but they have played  games and only have  points. I think they could be better. But I am thinking only about us, I am tired of hearing that we are struggling as an offense, so we are going to use this game to show just how much we have improved in that department."