Major League Soccer (MLS) is the leading soccer organization in the United States and one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world. In terms of average salary, it ranks number seven in the world among other soccer leagues, making it a lucrative destination for players.
While we often hear about the astronomical wages of the game’s biggest superstars, the lesser-known players’ earnings rarely make the headlines. Have you ever wondered, how much an MLS player makes?
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the MLS wage structure and delving into how much an MLS player makes. The main topics we’ll touch on include:
- The average salary of an MLS player
- MLS salary cap
- Highest earners in the MLS
- Highest-paying teams in the MLS
- Highest-paying leagues in the world
How Much Do MLS Players Earn?
MLS players are among the highest earners in world sports. The MLS ranks number 13 among the highest paying leagues in the world, which includes global behemoths like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and EPL.
Players typically make close to half a million dollars per year. However, MLS superstars earn significantly more, with the highest-paid player making over $6 per season (we’ll discuss this in detail a little later).
The MLS enforces a unique wage structure compared to other global soccer leagues. They have a flexible salary cap that allows teams to free up roster space in order to pay their top players higher wages.
This system is often referred to as the “Beckham Rule”, as it essentially allows teams to adjust their budgets to attract some of the bigger names in world soccer.
What Is the Average Salary for MLS Players?
The average salary for an MLS player is $410,000 per season (2019/20). However, the salary cap and designated players rule mean that there can be a big discrepancy between the stars and the lower earners. Certain players are categorized as minimum earners and make a far more modest wage than their teammates.
How Much Do MLS Players Make a Month?
Taking the average annual salary as the benchmark, MLS players make approximately $34,166 every month.
How Much Do MLS Players Make a Week?
Again, using the annual salary as an example, MLS players earn around $7,884 per week.
MLS Salary FAQs
MLS Salary Cap
The MLS adopts a salary cap pay structure, similar to other American sports leagues. Unlike most national soccer associations around the world, the MLS doesn’t have promotion or relegation. There is no tiered soccer system with lower-level teams vying to enter the league.
The main reason for this is to promote the sport within the US and maintain relative equality among the teams. All teams have the same disposable income to spend on salaries, preventing an uneven distribution of wealth among franchises.
This is drastically different from major European leagues where a small selection of teams dominates every season, mainly due to their financial power.
With the salary cap, each team has the same wage limit. This limit changes year on year, with the official salary guide being released each spring. The salary guide outlines the base salary for each player, along with their guaranteed compensation. Since the MLS and its investors own each franchise, they are responsible for paying all player salaries.
As soccer is still a young and developing sport in the US, the salary cap makes each MLS season unpredictable.
Teams and fans can start every season with the hope of winning the league or cup trophy.
How It Works
The MLS salary cap is subject to change each year in relation to a collective bargaining agreement. As the league grows, so too do the budgets of all 28 teams (and counting). The money allocated to each team under the salary cap can be spent on a maximum of 20 players who are registered to the senior roster.
However, teams are allowed to register just 18 players, leaving two slots open.
MLS franchises are limited in terms of what they can spend on yearly wages for individual players. Depending on the collective bargaining agreement, players are entitled to earn a certain amount.
- For the 2020/21 season, the maximum salary for a standard roster player is $612,500. Each team also has 10 supplemental roster slots for backup players. However, they do not count toward the salary cap and have a predetermined wage.
The MLS has a designated player rule, sometimes referred to as the “Beckham Rule”. Under this regulation, MLS teams are permitted to sign up to three players that can earn more than the maximum salary cap wage. The associated costs are divided between the team, the MLS, and sometimes, the owner of the franchise.
The reason behind introducing the designated player rule is to attract high-profile soccer players to the league. It was made famous when David Beckham joined LA Galaxy in 2007, hence the term “Beckham Rule”.
Thanks to the designated player system, the MLS has welcomed a number of global superstars over the past 15 years. Some of the biggest designated player names the MLS has had includes:
- Wayne Rooney
- Gonzalo Higuain
- Steven Gerrard
- Frank Lampard
- Andrea Pirlo
- Thierry Henry
- Robbie Keane
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Didier Drogba
- David Villa
- Tim Howard
Ibrahimovic is not a player who lacks in self-confidence. He was happy to provide the press with some instant classic quotes that are simply, unapologetically Zlatan. Using an Italian car brand analogy, he described the difference between himself and the other MLS players:
“Here, I am like a Ferrari among Fiats.”Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2020
Who Is Highest-Paid MLS Player?
The highest-paid MLS player in 2022 is Carlos Vela, who plays for Los Angeles Football Club. The Mexican superstar, and former Arsenal forward, earns a guaranteed $6,300,000 per year.
He joined LAFC in their first MLS season in 2018. Since his arrival, Vela has experienced tremendous success, netting an impressive 71 goals in just 105 appearances. He is widely regarded as one of the best players in the MLS.
Who Is The Highest-Paid Goalkeeper in MLS?
In the 2021 season, Brad Guzan, from Atlanta United FC, was the highest-paid goalkeeper in the MLS. His guaranteed salary amounted to $805,000 for the season.
Andre Blake from Philadelphia Union was the next highest paid on the list, making a guaranteed $650,000 for the season. Kenneth Kronholm made $632,00 playing for Chicago Fire in 2021.
Who Is The Highest-Paid Defender in MLS?
Aljaz Struna, the Slovenian Center back, was the highest-paid center back in the MLS in 2021. As a designated player for CF Montreal, he earned $1,210,000 over the course of the season. However, Montreal declined to resign him in 2022, leaving him without a club to being 2022.
Columbus Crew captain and established Ghanaian international, Jonathan Mensah, was the second-highest-paid defender, earning $1,140,667 in 2021.
Who Is The Highest-Paid Midfielder in MLS?
The highest-paid midfielder in the MLS last season was Alejandro Pozuelo. The Spanish attacking midfield player made a cool $4,693,000 playing for Toronto FC.
Mexican playmaker, Rodolfo Pizarro was the next highest-earning midfielder, making $3,350,000 with Inter Miami CF. However, he was loaned to Monterrey in Liga MX (Mexico) in 2022.
The third highest-paid midfielder was New York City FC star, Maximiliano Moralez. The Argentine maestro has been a designated player since 2017 and made $3,285,000 in 2021.
Who Is The Highest-Paid Attacker in MLS?
Unsurprisingly, the highest-paid player in the MLS is an attacker: Carlos Vela. As mentioned, the silky Mexican forward made $6,300,000 in 2021. The second and third highest-paid players in the league are also strikers.
Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) earned $6,000,000 last season, while Gonzalo Higuain made $5,793,750 in 2021.
Chicharito has been a major global soccer star throughout his career, wearing the legendary shirts of Manchester United and Real Madrid before joining LA Galaxy in 2020. Higuain has amassed over 300 career goals for huge clubs, including Real Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan, and Chelsea.
While Chicharito started brightly in the MLS, Higuain has struggled to get on the scoresheet as frequently. However, both of these players help draw eyes to the league, growing its profile and reputation from all over the world.
Who Is the Highest-Paid MLS Player 2019/20/21/22
The financial rewards for MLS players are beginning to rival those from some of the major European organizations. Let’s take a look at some of the highest-paid players over the last few years:
Highest-Paid Player in 2019
In 2019, the highest-paid player was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who earned $7,200,000 per year during the 2018 and 2019 seasons with LA Galaxy. The Swede enjoyed a successful spell with the Los Angeles franchise, scoring 53 goals in 58 appearances.
Highest-Paid Player in 2020
Carlos Vela was the highest-paid MLS player in 2020, making $6,300,000 for the season.
Highest-Paid Player in 2021
Again, in 2021, Carlos Vela topped the earnings charts, accumulating $6,300,000 over the course of the season.
Highest-Paid Player in 2022
Although the official 2022 salaries haven’t been released, it looks as though Carlos Vela will reclaim his title as the league’s highest-paid player, earning $6,300,000.
However, he is expected to be joined at the top of the earnings list by Lorenzo Insigne, when he joins Montreal FC from Napoli on July 1st. The Italian is also set to make $6,300,000 for the 2022 season.
MLS Salary Minimum
The MLS salary cap is structured to guarantee a minimum salary to squad members. Senior team minimum salary players will make a guaranteed minimum of $81,375 in 2022. Reserve minimum salary players are guaranteed to earn at least $63,547 over the season.
Highest Earning Teams
Despite the strict salary cap, not all teams pay their players the same amount. Different roster allocations and designated players mean that the total guaranteed salaries for each team differ. Here’s a look at the top 10 highest-paying franchises in the MLS:
|Inter Miami CF||$17,546,831|
|New York City FC||$15,163, 891|
|Sporting Kansas City||$14,129,111|
How Much Does a Toronto FC Player Make?
According to the guaranteed salaries, an average salary for a Toronto FC player is $963,564.
However, their top earner, Alejandro Pozuelo makes $4,693,000 per season.
How Much Do Columbus Crew Players Make?
Among the 20 allocated roster spots, an average Columbus Crew player makes around $715,967 per season.
The highest-paid player on the team is Younes Namli, who earns a reported $1,271,000 every year.
How Much Do LA Galaxy Players Make?
The average salary for LA Galaxy players is $1,016,133, which is the highest in the league.
Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) is their highest-paid player, making $6,000,000 per season. Mexican star, Jonathan dos Santos earned $2,000,000 during the 2021 season for Galaxy. Their third highest-paid player in 2021 was Kevin Cabral, who made $1,440,000.
The Fan Favorites
While you may have heard the disclosed salaries of the MLS superstars, the earnings of fan favorites don’t always get reported. Here are some of the salaries of the league’s fan favorites:
What Is Cristian Roldan Salary?
Seattle Sounders midfielder, Cristian Roldan, makes $881,542 per season.
How Much Money Does Stefan Frei Make?
Stefan Frei, the Swiss Seattle Sounders goalkeeper, earns $500,000 per season.
How Much Does Fredy Montero Make a Year?
You might be surprised to hear that Fredy Montero, the Columbian international, earns just $81,375 per season.
What Is Diego Chara Salary?
Diego Chara earns a salary of $668,750 for the Portland Timbers.
What Is Jordan Morris’s Salary?
Jordan Morris is one of the Seattle Sounders’ highest-paid players. The US national team forward makes $1,270,100 per season.
How Much Do Pro Soccer Players Make a Year?
To give MLS player salaries some context, let’s compare their earnings to players from the highest paying leagues around the world:
|English Premier League||$3,970,000|
|La Liga (Spain)||$2,550,000|
|Serie A (Italy)||$2,230,000|
|Ligue 1 (France)||$1,300,000|
|Chinese Super League||$1,210,000|
Although the MLS isn’t on the same level as European leagues just yet, it uses a unique pay structure that facilitates steady growth. The designated player rule ensures it is a popular destination for some of the world’s best players. As soccer continues to flourish in the United States, things can only get better for MLS soccer fans.
Who would you like to see join your team over the next few seasons? Are we close to seeing the likes of Neymar or Mbappe making the transition across the Atlantic? Only time will tell!
Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.