The Major League Soccer Players Association has released the year's first set of salary figures, and, as ever, there's a lot of news in them.
For the first time in team history, the Union's payroll exceeds $8 million — and nearly hits $9 million. The Union have $8,915,987.84 in guaranteed compensation on their books. That is a major jump from the $7,178,431.71 spent on player salaries last year.
Much of the increase in spending went toward the Union's two big winter signings. Midfield playmaker Borek Dockal is earning $1,714,285.68, while winger David Accam is earning $1.25 million. Dockal's salary is the 19th-highest across MLS this year. Accam's ranks 35th.
Accam brought that salary with him when the Union acquired the Ghanaian from Chicago in January. Though his salary is well above the Designated Player threshold of $504,375, his salary cap hit was bought down with a large sum of of MLS' so-called Targeted Allocation Money for marquee players.
Alejandro Bedoya, the Union's first-ever millionaire, got a small raise this year to $1,266,250.00, putting him 34th in the league-wide standings.
Two other players got big raises with new contracts. Goalkeeper Andre Blake's pay got bumped up $313,500 in January to $500,000; and striker C.J. Sapong got a $225,000 raise in mid-March to $525,000 after last year's 16-goal campaign. Sapong's cap hit was bought down with General Allocation Money, funds used for everyone else on the roster.
Striker Jay Simpson, signed last year to lead the team's attack, got a raise in his existing contract of over $115,000. The Englishman has scored just one goal in 24 appearances for the Union, and has played just twice this year — both times as late-game substitutes.
Three Union veterans took pay cuts when they re-signed with the team over the winter: defender Fabinho ($14,579) and midfielders Fabian Herbers ($35,492) and Ilsinho ($191,333.33).
On the whole, the Union's payroll fulfills owner Jay Sugarman's offseason promise that he'd provide "significantly more resources" to sporting director Earnie Stewart "than he's ever had."
But while salary data is absolute, it's also relative. As MLS evolves, many other teams are spending more money, too — and in many cases, a lot more. The Union's increase in payroll is the ninth-largest of MLS' 23 teams, but their total expenditure on payroll ranks just 15th league-wide.
Not surprisingly, the teams with MLS' biggest names top those standings. Toronto FC is once again No. 1 at $26,167,498.69, thanks to Sebastian Giovinco ($7,115,555.67), Michael Bradley ($6.5 million) and Jozy Altidore ($5 million). Giovinco's salary is the league's highest, and Bradley's is second-highest.
The Los Angeles Galaxy rank second at $17,502,008.29, with Mexico's Giovani dos Santos accounting for $6 million of that. Superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimović's salary is officially just $1.5 million.
New York City FC is third at $14,147,632.75, with David Villa's $5.61 million salary front and center. In Chicago, Bastian Schweinsteiger's $6.1 million salary accounts for nearly half of the Fire's $13,824,204.43 payroll.
Expansion team Los Angeles FC ranks No. 5 league-wide at $13,432,052.68. Leading man Carlos Vela is MLS' top Mexican star, and he commands a salary to match the billing: $6,292,500, ranked No. 3 in the league.
There are 46 players across MLS earning salaries of at least $1 million. That smashes the previous record of 31, set last season.
Below you'll find interactive charts with the Union's full payroll, the league-wide payroll ranking, and other notable facts and figures from around MLS.
Philadelphia Union payroll
Each name is followed by up to four numbers: base salary, guaranteed compensation, and any change in each figure from the previous release last September.
TAM: Salary cap hit paid down with Targeted Allocation Money. HGP: Homegrown Players. Najem counts because the Union acquired his homegrown rights from the New York Red Bulls. A list of all homegrown players league-wide is available here. DP: Designated Player. A list of all such players league-wide is available here. GAM: Salary cap hit paid down with General Allocation Money.
The Union currently have 29 players on their roster. They can have up to 30, plus one under contract who is loaned for the year to their USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel.
Team payroll comparison
This list comes with the perennial caveat that it isn't perfect. Some teams' payrolls include players who are out on loan to other clubs, and some do not. The players union has gotten better about keeping track of this, but some players slip through the cracks at times.
As you can see from the table, there has been a lot of movement in this year's payroll ranking. What accounts for that? Here are some answers:
— Columbus' drop comes from the departure of Ola Kamara ($825,000.00 / $925,000.00), and from Gaston Sauro taking a nearly $400,000 pay cut.
— D.C. United's jump is because its big signings in the second half of 2017 weren't included in last September's data. Zoltan Stieber is earning $999,999.96 / $999,999.96; Paul Arriola is earning $624,999.96 / $638,999.96; and Yamil Asad is earning $436,363.56 / $520,522.65.
— The Galaxy's additions include Jonathan Dos Santos ($4,250,000.00 / $6,000,000.00) and Zlatan Ibrahimović ($1,500,000.00 / $1,500,000.00, at least officially).
— Minnesota signed Designated Player midfielder Darwin Quintero for $1,650,000.00 / $1,650,000.00.
— Montreal signed playmaker Ignacio Piatti to a big-money new Designated Player contract — but one that's structured very unusually. His base salary is $500,000.04, but his guaranteed compensation — the metric by which teams are ranked here — is $4,713,333.37.
— New England's trade of Lee Nguyen to Los Angeles FC removed his $500,000.00 / $500,000.00 salary from the Revolution's books.
— New York City shed $5,600,000.00 / $5,915,690.00 when Andrea Pirlo retired.
— Kansas City jumped in part because it signed DP midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez for $1,599,999.96 / $1,649,999.96.
— Orlando City plummeted because of the departure of Kaká, who commanded the biggest salary in MLS history at $6,660,000.00 / $7,167,500.00.
— Portland's payroll also includes a player who's out on loan, forward Lucas Melano. His salary is $830,000.00 / $1,050,000.00.
— Real Salt Lake dropped on what might be a technicality. They loaned Designated Player midfielder Yura Movsisyan to Swedish club Djurgården, so his $1,850,000.00 / $2,073,750.00 salary doesn't count for these purposes.
— San Jose's drop is mostly because of other teams rising.
— Toronto gave playmaker Victor Vázquez a raise to $1,365,000.00 / $1,500,000.00, and signed fellow Spanish midfielder Ager Akexte for $1,190,000.04 / $1,295,000.04.
— Vancouver no longer has Fredy Montero, who earned $1,400,000.04 / $1,800,000.04.
— You might be surprised to see the Red Bulls so low, given how much they spent to acquire playmaker Alejandro "Kaku" Romero Gamarra. But while his transfer fee was $6.25 million, his listed salary is just $709,090.80 / $709,090.80.
— Similarly, while Atlanta United spent a MLS record $15 million on Ezequiel Barco's transfer fee, his salary is relatively modest for a DP: $1,425,000.00 / $1,425,000.00.
The MLS millionaires club
There are a record 46 players on Major League Soccer's books making at least $1 million in guaranteed salary now. That blows away the previous record of 31 set last year. Two come with caveats, though. Yura Movsisyan counts as unsigned, and Portland's Lucas Melano is still on loan to Argentine club Estudiantes.
There are now 669 players in MLS, 15 more than there were last September.
The overall spending figures, the median salaries, the most common salaries and the minimum wage are new record highs. It's the first time in MLS history that the base salary total has surpassed $200 million, and the first time that the median guaranteed compensation has surpassed $150,000.
Two players make the absolute minimum wage: Dallas' Jesus Ferreira and Seattle's Nouhou Tolo.
(Ferreira is the son of former FC Dallas midfielder David Ferreira, who was a Designated Player while with the team from 2009 to 2013. In the last of those seasons, he earned $625,000.00 / $730,000.00, which at the time was the 10th-highest salary in MLS. The minimum wage back then was $35,125.00 / $35,125.00.)
For conversational purposes, 42 players make within a few dollars of the absolute minimum. Only one is on the Union, Matthew Real. Four are on the Vancouver Whitecaps, and three each are on the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes. All the other teams in MLS have two or fewer.
Last September, 56 players league-wide earned a salary at or very near the minimum.
It's also worth noting that on many occasions over the years, the mode salary has been at or close to the minimum. This time around, the mode is much higher.
As always, the end of this post is reserved for players who spend the least time in the spotlight: those who have contracts with MLS, but don't have a club. The old leaguewide goalkeeper pool no longer exists, so the unsigned player group includes all positions.
Here are the latest versions of the charts I use to show key MLS salary metrics and changes over time.