The MLS Players Association published its latest round of salary data this week, giving us an updated look at teams’ payrolls after the summer transfer window closed.
While the Union only made a few small midseason signings, other teams around the league made big splashes. Topping the list is Toronto FC, which is paying Italian veteran Lorenzo Insigne the biggest salary by far in MLS history: $14.1 million. Not only is it the first salary in league history to top $10 million, but it’s nearly $6 million higher than the previous record set by Chicago’s Xherdan Shaquiri at the start of this year ($8.15 million).
Another Toronto newcomer from Italy draws the league’s fourth-biggest paycheck. Former Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi is set for nearly $6.3 million in guaranteed compensation, which unusually is nearly double his base salary of $3.1 million.
Insigne and Bernardeschi’s combined guaranteed compensation of $20,256,322 is bigger than the entire payrolls of 23 of Major League Soccer’s 27 teams — and Insigne’s alone tops nine.
Toronto isn’t the only team that splashed the cash this summer. Los Angeles FC made four big signings: Welsh star Gareth Bale ($2.39 million salary), French striker Denis Bouanga ($2.08 million), Spanish midfielder Cristian Tello ($1.73 million), and famed Italian centerback Giorgio Chiellini ($1.08 million).
Across town, the Los Angeles Galaxy signed veteran Brazilian Douglas Costa for good after a six-month loan, gave him a raise from $3 million to $5.8 million, then watched him bank just four goals and one assist this year. But the club got another big move right, as former Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig ($1.695 million) sparked a run to the playoffs.
D.C. United, under new manager Wayne Rooney, agreed to pay Belgian striker Christian Benteke $4.18 million. Fellow underperformer Houston is paying Mexican national team stalwart Héctor Herrera $5.25 million.
Keep in mind that all of these numbers are just salaries, not transfer fees.
The Union’s most expensive summer signing was midfielder Richard Odada, for a $150,000 transfer fee and $100,280 salary. If the 21-year-old Kenyan proves to be as good as the early signs have shown, that salary number will surely go up in the future.
Only one Union player got any kind of raise this summer: Mikael Uhre’s guaranteed compensation went up by $83,750. His base salary stayed the same.
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Surveying the landscape as a whole, MLS teams are paying a total of $410,612,271 to 894 players. It’s the first time the league’s total payroll has exceeded $400 million, thanks to the above deals and the overall growth of the player pool. Next year’s expansion team St. Louis SC is doing its part with nine players on its books so far, including four millionaires: goalkeeper Roman Bürki ($1.63 million), defender Joakim Nilsson ($1.13 million), midfielder Eduard Lowen ($1.29 million), and forward João Klauss ($1.36 million).
The league’s average salary is $514,728.68, down slightly from earlier this year. The median salary is $248,687.50, also down slightly. The most common salary has not changed: the league minimum, $65,500. A total of 60 players earn that sum, including the Union’s Chris Donovan. Atlanta United has the most minimum-wage earners with five, and three teams have four: Charlotte, Miami and New England.
Note that all data is as of September 2, the date of MLS’s roster freeze deadline.
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 agents’ 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.
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The annotations in parentheses mean the following:
1 – Designated Player
2 – Cap hit bought down below Designated Player threshold with Targeted Allocation Money
3 – Young Designated Player
4 – Academy product
5 – Summer signing
6 – Not on the Union’s roster, but included for contractual reasons
As noted above, salary data does not include transfer fees, which are an ever-greater portion of MLS teams’ budgets. Just because a team is ranked down the list here doesn’t mean that team doesn’t spend on transfer fees. But the payroll comparison is still a snapshot of how teams handle the salary part of the equation.
It’s also important to note that players who are loaned out internationally usually still are counted on the MLS Players Association’s books. That has a significant impact on the payroll rankings.
For uniformity’s sake, all players listed in the MLSPA’s records are included in the calculations here, whether they’re big names or not.
Click here to see the team payroll comparison from earlier this year.
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The MLSPA reached another milestone this summer: for the first time, there are more than 100 millionaires on the labor union’s books.
The table below includes some players on loan at clubs out of the league, but still technically on MLS team’s books. But even with them, the total would still be over 100.
As is tradition in this feature, the last section is devoted to players who are on the MLSPA’s books but aren’t currently on any team’s roster.
Grayson Barber ($87,750) was waived by Kansas City on Feb. 14, and now plays for the third-tier Charlotte Independence.
Joe Corona ($315,000), a former U.S. national team regular, was waived by Houston on Feb. 21, but no team claimed him. So Houston kept his contract and loaned him to Sweden’s GIF Sundsvall.
Matt Hundley ($119,000) was waived by Colorado on March 1 and doesn’t have a new club yet.
As noted above, next year’s expansion team St. Louis SC has nine players on its books so far. Bürki is the standout name, a former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper whose salary is by far the highest for the position in the league — and nearly double Union star Andre Blake’s pay.
Klauss, a Brazilian, was signed from Germany’s TSG Hoffenheim for a $3 million transfer fee. St. Louis sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel worked in Hoffenheim’s front office from 2011-18, then at Fortuna Düsseldorf from 2018-20. (Downingtown’s Zack Steffen went on loan to Düsseldorf from Manchester City during that time.)
Löwen came from Germany’s Hertha Berlin for a $1.1 million transfer fee; Nilson, who played for Sweden in qualifiers for this year’s World Cup, came from Arminia Bielefeld on a free transfer.
Here are the latest versions of other charts that are recurring features with this analysis. Many of them show changes in key MLS salary metrics over time.