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MLS player salaries: analysis, charts, and tables

Aug 13, 2013, 4:45 PM EDT

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The Major League Soccer Players Union released updated salary information up to Aug. 1 on Friday. Included in the new numbers was the revelation of Clint Dempsey’s salary, which makes him the highest paid player in the league, surpassing Robbie Keane.

Dempsey will make over $4.9 million base salary, or $5.04 million guaranteed, per year on his new deal. Keane is just behind him at exactly $4 million base and $4.33 million guaranteed. Other top earners include Thierry Henry ($3.75 million base/$4.35 million guaranteed), Tim Cahill ($3.5 million/$3.63 million) and Landon Donovan ($2.5 million each).

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the league-wide numbers and raw data. But first, the usual MLS salary disclaimers:

• Not every player is listed in the document for various reasons, such as new Colorado Rapids Designated Player Gabriel Torres, and players on loan, such as Fredy Montero, are still listed.

• The information can never be 100 percent accurate or up to date because players constantly sign new contracts — after the salary numbers come out, some players are surely on the phone to their agents very quickly.

• Also, the numbers don’t include bonuses, sponsorship deals or any other miscellaneous contract line items. For example, when a portion of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s profits were making their way into David Beckham’s bank account, those were not declared in his MLSPU-released salary.

• When it comes to Designated Players, the MLS roster rules are a bit murky and contrived. For example, some guys in the official dossier make more than the league maximum $368,750 but are not Designated Players, and the reverse applies as well. In some cases, allocation money has been used to buy down the contract, but transfer fees and other acquisition costs can bring the total cost up.

So let’s get to it.

Basic information

source:  A total of 568 players were listed in the MLSPU document. Pool goalkeepers Brad Stuver and Doug Herrick, as well as four released players, are not listed with a specific team but are on the list anyway.

The average salary this year is $148,693.26, and the median number is $75,000. The mean is up $6,790.13 from May 1, but without Clint Dempsey’s recent deal, it would be down to $140,290.60 ($1,612.53 less than the May numbers).

Among non-Designated Players, Dwayne De Rosario continues to hold top spot, making a $600,000 base salary. In fact, he makes a higher base salary than 17 DPs, meaning just 11 of them make more. Fabian Castillo of FC Dallas is the lowest paid DP, making just $60,000.

In terms of average and median salaries through the years, the mean is down $7,430.92 from last season, although the median is up $1,240. The biggest jump in the median came between 2011 and 2012, after a $2,500 decline the previous year.

The current collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the MLSPU expires after next season, in December 2014.

source:  Positional breakdown

Nothing new here: forwards make the big bucks, goalkeepers make the opposite and everybody else is in between. It’s a worldwide trend. (Note: players listed at multiple positions are calculated as being part of both groups; that’s how Chris Wondolowski is the No. 4 highest paid midfielder in the league.)

source:  Standings

Looking at how each team’s money works for them is one of the more fun exercises from this giant list of numbers. Four of the mid- to low-table teams in terms of total salary are in the top five of the Supporters’ Shield race.

The Colorado Rapids, who have the second lowest total salary in the league, are getting great value for their money. Of course, Gabriel Torres’ numbers are not in the calculations, but the team got to where it is without its first-ever DP.

source:  Unlike years past, where two teams paid far-and-away the highest total salaries in the league, a third team has joined the fray. With Seattle Sounders FC’s commitment to Clint Dempsey, it jumps closer to the New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy in terms of total numbers.

While the Galaxy had a modest 7 percent increase in total salary since May, and the Red Bulls actually saw a small decrease, Seattle is now paying an astounding 70 percent more to its players than it was just three months ago.

source:  The Sounders were No. 3 in the salary table in May, too, but owners Joe Roth, Drew Carey, Adrian Hanauer and Paul Allen are starting to throw more money around in an attempt to bring an MLS Cup to the largest fan base in the league.

  1. charliej11 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    You can’t say the salaries had an increase, but not if you take out Dempsey’s salary…then not mention that Backham’s salary went away…can you ?

    The league leaders ( points, not PPG ) are 10th and 11th in salaries.

    Donovan is going to be getting a raise.

    It is amazing how well MLS does with so little money. We are very lucky.

  2. mvktr2 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    Klieberson sure is an expensive door-stop in Philly. They simply traded one salary anchor (Adu) for another. I’m guessing this one isn’t as ‘sour’ which is an improvement but still quite the waste considering for that type of money they could have a Higuain or Bieler type.

    • cwelder - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      Fortunately though, his contract is a loan which expires at the end of the season, whereas Adu’s was a longer term deal. We should be getting more out of Kleberson since he’s healthy, but Hack has already said that he probably won’t be back next year.

  3. talgrath - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:27 PM

    Of course, it’s worth noting in the comparison between spending and place on the tables that due to the fractured nature of how MLS games are played there are games in hand for many teams in the league. The NYRB don’t have games in hand, but they’re 2nd in the east, the Galaxy have games in hand on everybody in the western playoff picture at this time with the exception of Vancouver and Portland and finally the Sounders haves games in hand on literally everyone else in MLS. What’s more, all three of the top paying teams in MLS are consistently in the playoff race; we all know the Glaxay’s success in the post-season, the NYRB have made the playoffs the last three years and the Sounders have made the playoffs since their inception, there aren’t a lot of teams that can claim that sort of playoff consistency in that timeframe. Certainly money doesn’t necessarily buy success in MLS, but it certainly sems to help at least put you within shooting distance of the MLS cup.

  4. hildezero - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    Those are some very interesting stats. Major League Soccer might be a league with a lot of money, but MLS clubs have a little bit and they’re very good on controlling their money.

  5. funsunrunning - Aug 17, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    Well NYCFC is gonna have plenty of money and if the cosmos make it into the league, so will they. Unfortunately Chivas has no chance and that team should be dropped and made defunct. Bad image for the rest of the league

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