A lot of players are making bank in Major League Soccer, while the league’s minimum salary still shows a huge gap between the (mostly) imported stars and the last men on the rosters.
Mexican stars Carlos Vela of LAFC and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of the LA Galaxy have the two highest salaries in terms of guaranteed compensation per year, at $6.3 million and $6 million, respectively, compared to the $81,375 paid to the league’s lower-tier veterans.
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There’s also a lack of well-compensated Americans and Canadians in the top-tier, as Jozy Altidore’s $3.89 million is the only USMNT or Canada MNT talent in the top 25. Darlington Nagbe makes it two by No. 29, Michael Bradley three by 33, and there are five by 50 when Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris join the fun.
Of that top 50, here are the nationalities of the top earners. It pays to be Argentine:
- Argentina (10) – G. Higuain, M. Moralez, Jara, S. Blanco, L. Acosta, C. Espinoza, Urruti, Barco, Zelarayan, Bou
- Mexico (6) – Vela, Chicharito, Pizarro, Damm, J. dos Santos, Pulido
- United States (5) – Altidore, Morris, Zardes, Bradley, Nagbe
- Colombia (2) – Quintero, Y. Chara
- Spain (2) – Pozuelo, Gil,
- Uruguay (2) – Lodeiro, Pereyra
- France (2) – Cabral, Matuidi
- Paraguay (2) – C. Dominguez, Gimenez
- Brazil (2) – E. Luiz, Brenner
- Peru (2) – Flores, Ruidiaz
- Slovenia (2) – Struna, Beric
- Canada – Cavallini
- Cape Verde – Monteiro
- Belgium – Locadia
- Croatia – Kreilach
- Denmark – Namli
- Germany – Mukhtar
- Iraq – Adnan
- Japan – Kubo
- Kenya – Wanyama
- Portugal – Nani
- Scotland – Russell
- Slovakia – Rusnak
- Venezuela – J. Martinez
While there are discouraging signs like that — five of 50? — there are also a lot of signs of progress, as noted by the MLSPA:
The first release since the new CBA went into effect in Feb. 2020 shows continued growth:
▶️ Salaries for roster spots 4-18 grew on average more than 10% per year over the last 5 years
▶️ Average Base Salary for Senior Roster Non-DPs has more than doubled over the last 5 years pic.twitter.com/5m3NBWIRsI
— MLSPA (@MLSPA) May 13, 2021
How far does MLS have to go to compete on the continental stage with Liga MX, let alone the top leagues in Europe? The Athletic notes a report that Mexican teams salaries are 20-30 percent above MLS and that the $28M wage bill Sheffield United — the PL’s lowest-spending team — is $10 million more than the richest MLS wage bill.
Interestingly enough in that same report, however, The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal report that the top MLS team wage bill is just behind the lowest one in England’s second-tier Football League Championship.
As MLS looks to incrementally build up the ranks of world football, the rub is there: you can’t really have the conversation about whether the best MLS team would do well in a European league. In a world with agents, the wage bill is going to give a good general answer more often than not.
And comparing MLS to other leagues is actually counterproductive. MLS has surged to its standing in the game in under three decades. It’s very impressive that teams have mostly succeeded and that players like Miguel Almiron get the stage to go to Europe and others in the ilk of Zlatan Ibrahimovic are willing to join the league.