The MLS Players Association is back to publishing Major League Soccer players’ salaries after not doing so last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the labor union brought us up to date not just on this year’s salaries but also published the figures it didn’t release last year. That gives the public a clearer look at the pay cuts that the league forced on the players when games stopped for four months last year, then resumed in empty stadiums.
The average, median, and minimum salaries leaguewide are at record levels, with the average already well above what it fell to amid those pay cuts. That’s a sign that many teams aren’t spending as much on individual players as they used to. Front offices now focus more on rising young stars they can sell abroad for big money instead of older veterans with big names.
It’s also a sign that teams are giving more attention to transfer fees, which aren’t included in the MLSPA’s figures, than salaries.
That may seem on the surface to be against the players’ interests, since most transfer fee money goes to teams’ bank accounts, not players’ pockets. But teams that spend big on salaries in MLS tend to pile most of that money into a few Designated Players, not the roster as a whole.
Proof of that came in the MLSPA’s press release with the data. The union noted that the average base salary for senior roster non-Designated Players – players who aren’t DPs or back-of-squad rookies – has more than doubled over the last five years.
In the past, my analyses of MLS player salary releases have compared salaries and teams’ aggregate payrolls to the previous set of figures. I’m not doing that this time for two reasons: the gap since the last public report, and the increased emphasis on transfer fees compared to salaries in teams’ budgets. Measuring teams’ spending power by salaries alone paints an inaccurate picture.
I’ll resume comparisons of Union player salaries when the next set of data is released, so we can see which Union players get raises. It’s not really fair to judge raises over a two-year span, given the amount of turnover in the team and the fact that anyone who’s still here would naturally have gotten a good pay bump. But if you’d like to look at the last set of data, you can click here.
Note that all data released for this year is official as of April 15, 2021, MLS’ roster compliance date at the start of the season. Players signed since then are not included, such as the Union’s Dániel Gazdag and Toronto FC’s Yeferson Soteldo.
Each player’s salary figure officially includes two numbers: the base salary and the guaranteed compensation. The latter number includes signing and guaranteed bonuses, plus marketing bonuses and agent’s fees, annualized over the term of a player’s contract, including option years.
For conversational and reporting purposes, the guaranteed compensation figure is the one commonly used around the league.
HGP: Homegrown Players.
DP: Designated Player.
Bought down: Przybylko and Santos’ salaries are above the Designated Player threshold ($612,500 this year), but their cap hits are bought down with allocation money.
U2: Miscic and Portella were signed to contracts to play for Union II, the club’s reserve team, in MLS’ new reserve league. But the league has not launched yet, so they are on the MLS team’s books while waiting. Miscic is on loan to USL League One’s North Carolina FC.
Team payroll comparison
Again, these totals include only salary figures, not transfer fees.
The number of players earning at least $1 million per year in the league stands at 72. When the MLSPA started publishing salary figures in 2007, there were just four millionaires in the ranks. Four years ago, there were 31.
Here are the top 25 salaries in the league.
Notable names outside the top 30 include Miami’s Blaise Matuidi (No. 33, $1,500,000 guaranteed); Toronto’s Michael Bradley (No. 34, $1,500,000); Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes (No. 38, $1,400,000); Seattle’s Jordan Morris (No. 45, $1,270,100); and Los Angeles FC’s Diego Rossi (No. 64, $1,052,000).
There are 786 players on the books across the league. They span 27 teams, plus four players who are in the labor union but aren’t with clubs now.
The total amount of spending on salaries leaguewide is $325,933,679. The average salary is $423,231.65. The median (middle) salary is $210,000.00. The mode (most common) salary is $81,375.
The lowest salary leaguewide is $63,547. Thirty-five players earn that sum. None play for the Union. Inter Miami has the most such players, with five; Atlanta United and the New England Revolution have four.
As mentioned above, four players are on the MLSPA’s books without having current MLS team homes. It’s a tradition here to give them a moment in the spotlight.
Three players are signed to Charlotte FC, which will be an expansion team next year: Brandt Bronico ($90,705), Riley McGree ($180,000) and Sergio Ruiz ($363,000). While they wait, they’re on loans elsewhere. Bronico is with the USL Championship’s Charlotte Independence, McGree is with the USL Championship’s Birmingham City, and Ruiz is at UD Las Palmas in his native Spain’s second division.
The fourth player is Adam Jahn ($134,000), last of Atlanta United. He’s at the USL Championship’s Orange County FC on a deal that is technically a loan from Atlanta United but came after Atlanta waived him in early February.
Here are the latest versions of the charts used to show key MLS salary metrics and changes over time.