It’s no surprise that Mexican playmaker Marco Fabián tops the charts with a team-record salary of $2.27 million in guaranteed compensation. His base salary is $1.83 million over an 11-month contract, with two club-held option years afterward.
The 11-month term required the players’ association to do some unusual accounting, because their database and the league’s salary cap count season-long contracts as 12 months. So, the association listed his base pay as $2 million to make it fit right.
Both the team and the players’ association confirmed the actual length and size of Fabian’s contract to The Inquirer after the data was initially published.
Some fans might be disgruntled about that, given how little Fabián has been on the field (he’s still tied for second on the team in chances created per 90 minutes with 2.0; only Ilsinho has a higher average), but a player of his pedigree was never going to come cheap. And his contract is structured in a way that if he ends up not fully succeeding in Chester, the Union can move on without taking an excessive loss.
The Union’s two other big signings this year are targeted allocation money players, which means they earn more than the designated-player threshold of $530,000, but have their cap hits paid down. Striker Sergio Santos is earning $668,500, while midfielder Jamiro Monteiro is earning $569,200.
New left back Kai Wagner earns $360,150, while striker Kacper Przybylko earns $277,000 in his first full season with the team. Przybylko was on the books for $67,500 last year, after arriving in mid-September. Backup goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel earns $148,425.
Centerback Aurélien Collin, signed as a free agent, earns $175,000. That’s a big pay cut from the last year of his previous deal with the New York Red Bulls, in which he earned $450,000.
Many returning Union players got raises as part of existing contracts, including academy-bred defenders Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, and Matthew Real.
Centerback Jack Elliott received a big raise when he got a new contract last month. He now earns $265,000, after earning less than $60,000 last year while still on his rookie contract.
The Union’s payroll adds up to $8,154,012.12 in base salary and $8,959,606.00 in guaranteed compensation. The latter category includes signing bonuses, marketing bonuses, and agents’ fees annualized over the length of each contract.
That is not too far off what the Union spent last year, when Borek Dockal and David Accam each earned seven figures and the roster had 29 players. The team’s net spending on base salary is down a little more than $337,000, and the net spending on guaranteed compensation is up a little more than $45,000.
Below are interactive charts with the Union’s payroll, the leaguewide payroll ranking, and other notable facts and figures from around the league.
DP: Designated Player. A list of all DPs leaguewide is available here.
TAM: Salary-cap hit paid down with Targeted Allocation Money. A list of all TAM players leaguewide is available here.
HGP: Homegrown Players. A list of all homegrown players leaguewide is available here.
The Union have 26 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.
From here on, the players’ association’s version of Marco Fabián’s salary is used. Since other players’ contract details aren’t public, the same standard should apply to all teams when painting a leaguewide picture.
The payroll table has long been an imperfect tool, and it gets less perfect each year. Some teams’ payrolls include players who are on loan to other clubs, and some do not. The players’ association has gotten better about keeping track of this, but some players slip through the cracks.
More importantly, payrolls do not include the amount teams spend on transfer fees. A team that isn’t at the top of the payroll ranking might have paid a big transfer fee for a star player.
There were 12 purchases reportedly worth more than $1 million each leaguewide last offseason, including three worth more than $10 million: Atlanta paid $15.05 million for midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, Portland paid $10.26 million for forward Brian Fernandez, and Toronto FC spent $10.26 million for midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo. New York City FC spent $11.97 million on midfielder Alexandru Mitriță ($9.12 million) and forward Héber ($2.85 million).
Notes on big movers:
— Toronto FC’s drop in spending comes from Sebastian Giovinco’s departure. Last year, he had the league’s highest overall salary at $7,115,555. But the Reds remain atop the payroll standings, thanks to perennial big earners Michael Bradley ($6,428,571.43) and Jozy Altidore ($6,332,250.04). Pozuelo also is making a big salary, $3.8 million.
— The Galaxy gave Zlatan Ibrahimović his money after he wasn’t a designated player last year. He’s earning $7.2 million, the largest in MLS history.
— Chicago’s rise in spending comes mainly from adding midfielder Nicolás Gaitán, who’s earning $2,197,504.
— Sporting Kansas City’s rise in spending is eye-catching not just because of the sums involved, but also because the team shed as many notable salaries over the winter as it took on. Much of the jump comes from raises to Ilie Sanchez (a bit less than $570,000) and Johnny Russell (a bit more than $368,000).
— LAFC’s total includes Andre Horta, who on Monday was sold to Portuguese club Braga. The move opens up a designated-player spot, and you can expect the spot to be filled.
— Atlanta gave Josef Martínez a raise of nearly $1.7 million when he signed a five-year contract extension in January. Pity Martínez’s salary is just $900,000.
— Orlando’s increased spending comes from the addition of winger Nani, who’s earning $2,486,249.70.
— Columbus didn’t just make Gyasi Zardes a designated player; they also gave him a huge raise to $1,421,667. And they took on David Accam’s salary of $1,137,920.
(Note: The MLSPA originally quoted Zardes’ salary as $2,311,666.64, then revised it down a few days later and admitted a clerical error to The Athletic.)
— Real Salt Lake’s increased spending comes from adding midfielder Everton Luiz ($1.1 million) and giving Albert Rusnak a new contract with a raise of nearly $1.1 million.
— NYCFC’s payroll dropped with the departure of David Villa, who earned $5.61 million last year. Maximiliano Moralez has the only seven-figure salary on the team ($2 million).
— New England’s increase comes from adding midfielder Carles Gil, who’s earning $2,337,500.
— Despite Houston having the league’s lowest payroll ($7.67 million in guaranteed compensation), its spending increased considerably. The Dynamo gave Mauro Manotas a raise of nearly $1 million and added Aljaz Struna with a salary of $1.21 million.
The number of millionaires in the league increased this year, but not by much. There are 52 this season, compared to 50 in 2018.
The players’ association’s books count three unsigned millionaires — Giovani dos Santos, Yura Movsisyan, and Shkëlzen Gashi — but because they are not in the league, they do not count here. Andre Horta also counts, even though he just left. Since he played in the league this year, we’ll count him here, too.
There are 690 players on the books, down from 694 at the end of last year, despite FC Cincinnati’s arrival as an expansion team. It’s up from the 668 on the books in May 2018. We will see how many signings are made during this summer’s transfer window.
While the number of players is down, all the major spending statistics are record highs: the mean (average) salary, the median (middle) salary, the mode (most common) salary, the low salary, and the total leaguewide payroll. Notably, the mean salary is more than $400,000 for the first time.
Twenty-nine players earn the minimum salary, down from 46 last fall. The only Union player among them is forward Michee Ngalina, who was promoted from Bethlehem Steel last month. Los Angeles FC has five players in the group. Six teams have none: Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City, San Jose, and Seattle.
In most years, the group of unsigned or pool players represents the league’s fringe. This time, it’s quite different. Six of the eight club-less players on the association’s books were waived or bought out before the season started, including three multimillionaires. Of the two remaining, one retired in May. The last is Charlie Lyon, the league’s pool goalkeeper who spent a few weeks in Philadelphia in May as an emergency loanee.
Here are the latest versions of the charts used to show key MLS salary metrics and changes over time.