How Much do Soccer Players Make?

I often get asked the question, “How much do soccer players make in MLS?” Some people are just curious because they have no idea what type of salaries soccer players make, especially in the USA. Some people want to compare Major League Soccer salaries to European salaries. Some people want to know because they have a family member considering making the jump to becoming a professional, and they don’t know if an MLS salary is worth it in the end.

As an attorney practicing law for almost 20 years now, I generally don’t like answering a question when I don’t know the exact answer. It’s easy to provide estimates on salaries, like “MLS players generally earn six figures.” But that really doesn’t answer the question in the best way. A parent might expect their son to earn at least $100,000. A parent might think their son is better than average so they should make at least $250,000 to start.

While others might be comfortable giving general estimates, I’m not. For me to answer this question, we need to know more information – especially in MLS with all of their salary rules and requirements.

So, I took a deep dive and analyzed all the numbers for Major League Soccer. Luckily, MLS releases a “Salary Guide” twice per season – once near the beginning of the season and another after the final trade window of the season. MLS recently released its second Salary Guide, and it contains salary information for all MLS players under contract as of September 2, 2022.

The player salaries are broken down into two numbers: the Current Annualized Base Salary and the Annualized Average Guaranteed Compensation (a/k/a the “Guaranteed Compensation”). The Guaranteed Compensation includes a player’s base salary and all signing and guaranteed bonuses annualized over the term of the player’s contract, including option years. We provide analysis and notable thoughts on both the Base Salary figures and the Guaranteed Compensation figures.

Before looking at the numbers, we should know the MLS rules regarding salaries. They can be tricky, so I’ll try to be to the point:

  • An MLS club’s active roster is comprised of up to 30 players, all of whom are eligible for selection to the game-day squad during the regular season and players.
  • Roster slots 1 through 20 is the “Senior Roster.” The Senior minimum salary is $84,000. These salaries count against the club’s Salary Budget (in 2022, the salary budget was $4,900,000).
  • Roster slots 21 through 30 is the “Supplemental Roster.” These salaries do NOT count toward a club’s Salary Budget.
    • All players in Slots 21 through 24 must be paid a base salary that is at least the Senior minimum salary of $84,000.
    • All players in Slots 25-30 must be paid a base salary that is at least the Reserve minimum salary of $65,500.

Those are the salary basics. There are more rules that I purposely do not discuss here. It will just complicate things.

With that in mind, here are some numbers to digest:

  • The average Guaranteed Compensation for all players throughout the league is about $515,000.
  • The average Guaranteed Compensation for Designated Players is about $2,320,000.
  • Of the top 50 Guaranteed Compensation salaries, only 4 are for non-Designated Players: Jozy Altidore, Gareth Bale, Damir Kreilach and Ricard Puig; and only 3 of them are playing in MLS as Jozy Altidore has been loaned to Puebla in Mexico.
  • Of the top 25 Guaranteed Compensation salaries, only 1 is for a defender (Walker Zimmerman).
  • Of the top 10 Guaranteed Compensation salaries:
  • 2 are from Toronto; 2 are from LA Galaxy; and 2 are from Inter Miami.
  • 7 are forwards.
  • Only 1 of them is a US International – Jozy Altidore, who is not playing in MLS.
  • There are 85 Designated Players and not one is a goalkeeper. Only 4 are defenders.
  • The average Guaranteed Compensation for non-Designated Players is about $325,000.
  • Toronto FC shows the highest total Guaranteed Compensation for all of its players at over $32M. Note that they have the highest Designated Player salary in the report – Lorenzo Insigne at $14M.
  • LA Galaxy (just over $27M) and Inter Miami (just over $24M) follow behind Toronto FC in highest Guaranteed Compensation for all players.
  • NY Red Bulls is showing the lowest Guaranteed Compensation for all players at just over $9.5M, followed by Philadelphia (about $10.3M), Colorado (about $10.5M) and San Jose ($10.7M).

Who pays their Designated Players the most, on average?

  • Toronto (not surprising, given Insigne’s $14M contract)
  • LA Galaxy (not surprising, given Chicharito’s $7M contract and Douglas Costa’s $5.8M contract)
  • Chicago Fire (again, not surprising, given Shaqiri’s $8.5M guaranteed contract)
  • Inter Miami (which pays Gonzalo Higuain almost $5.8M per year)

Who pays their Designated Players the least, on average?

  • Minnesota United
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • NY Red Bulls
  • Charlotte FC

What about non-Designated Players? The teams that pay the most to their non-Designed Players, on average, are:

  • LAFC (at almost $450k)
  • Toronto FC (at almost $445k)
  • LA Galaxy (at almost $430k)

The teams that pay the least, on average, to their non-Designated Players are:

  • NY Red Bulls (about $252k)
  • Portland Timbers (about $265k)
  • San Jose Earthquakes (about $277k)
  • Houston Dynamo (about $279k)
  • Charlotte FC (about $278k)

So, getting back to the original question, “What do soccer players make in MLS?” Let’s take one final look, this time by focusing on Base Salaries.

Of the 891 total players on the list (which includes the DP’s):

  • 116 players (13.0%) earn a Base Salary of the Reserve minimum of $65,500
  • 238 players (26.7%) earn a Base Salary of the Senior minimum of $84,000 or less
  • 290 players (32.5%) earn a Base Salary of less than $100,000
  • 123 players (13.8%) earn a Base Salary between $100,000 and $199,999
  • 85 players (9.5%) earn a Base Salary between $200,000 and $299,999
  • 82 players (9.2%) earn a Base Salary between $300,000 and $399,999
  • 59 players (6.6%) earn a Base Salary between $400,000 and $499,999
  • 217 players (24.3%) earn a Base Salary between $500,000 and $999,999
  • 94 players (10.5%) earn a Base Salary of more than $1,000,000.

For a league that is not even 30 years old and still growing, I think these numbers are not too shabby. The MLS minimum salaries are comparable, if not better, to what college graduates might make in 2022. On average, a young soccer player whose starting base salary is the Reserve minimum of $65,500 makes more in a starting salary than a college graduate with a degree in agriculture and natural sciences, business, communications, humanities, and social sciences (and almost more than a graduate with a math and sciences degree). If you don’t believe me, check out a recent article in Forbes which lays out projected average starting salaries for the class of 2022 (https://www.forbes.com/advisor/student-loans/average-salary-college-graduates/). On average, a young player who is lucky enough to make the Senior minimum of $84,000 will make more than college graduates in the categories I just mentioned and in addition, more than college graduates in computer sciences, engineering, and math and sciences.

Just some food for thought. Not trying to advocate for or against going to college…just comparing numbers.

On top of that, 566 players (63.5%) earn six figures, with 217 of those players (24.3%) making between $500,000 and $1M.

I know I threw a bunch of numbers at you, but in my opinion, this is the best way to answer the question “What do MLS players make?”

I’m not going to compare MLS salaries to European salaries here because I don’t think we’re comparing apples to apples. European leagues have been around for much longer than MLS. But, in another blog, I’ll analyze average salaries across Europe’s soccer leagues.

So there you have it. If you have any questions about MLS salaries, feel free to contact Mario Iveljic at Mag Mile Law at [email protected].

 

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