Major League Soccer teams have a soft salary cap of $4.9 million in 2022 to use on their senior roster positions 1-20. After those 20 spots, soccer clubs have a reserve club of ten players that make less than the 1-20 spots on their team. These players on the squad tend to be backups and or homegrown players and don’t count against the salary cap.
With the growth of Major League Soccer over the years with new soccer-only stadiums, TV contracts, merchandise, and more, salary caps keep increasing with each new CBA. CBA means collective bargaining agreement, and it helps dictate how much teams can spend each season on players and negotiates how much players can earn. The most recent CBA goes from 2021 to 2027.
So how much do MLS players make? Who are some of the highest-paid players in the league today? Why do designated players make a base salary more significant than the salary cap? Here is the complete breakdown of how much do MLS players make.
What is the Available Money to Spend on a Soccer Team’s Roster?
A new MLS CBA deal covers from 2021 to 2027. During that time, the available spend on the roster will increase each year from the projected additional revenue the league will bring in each season. The available spend on rosters includes the salary budget, general allocation money, and discretionary TAM.
- 2021: $9.225 Million
- 2022: $9.325 Million
- 2023: $9.83 Million
- 2024: $10.455 Million
- 2025: $11.105 Million
- 2026: $11.830 Million
- 2027: $13.013 Million
Major League Soccer Salary Budget for Spots 1-20
Major League Soccer has a salary budget of $4.9 Million for each team in 2021 and 2022 for spots 1-20 on their team. Between those 20 spots, teams can only spend a maximum salary of $612,500 per player. That max salary will gradually increase through the CBA from 2021 – to 2027 and will grow to $883,438 in 2027. The minimum wage for senior roster spots is $81,375 in 2021, increasing to $125,875 in 2027.
Here is the breakdown of salary roster spots 1-20 via the new CBA in MLS.
- 2021: $4.9 Million
- 2022: $4.9 Million
- 2023: $5.47 Million
- 2024: $5.47 Million
- 2025: $5.95 Million
- 2026: $6.425 Million
- 2027: $7.068 Million
Why Does MLS Have a Soft Cap for Teams?
MLS has a soft cap because roster spots 21-30 don’t count against the salary cap. Those roster spots tend to be smaller than senior players and are usually reserved for backups and homegrown talent.
In addition to roster spots 21-30 not counting against the salary cap, MLS also allows three designated player signings per team each season. which can exceed the salary cap for the team. This rule came out in 2007 and is generally referred to as the Beckham Rule when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007 for a five-year contract at $6.5 million per year.
When a team signs a Designated Player, they allocate a percentage of that salary to their cap, $612,500. They then need to pay the player the rest of the money through either allocation or other revenue streams for that season.
Why Would a Soccer Team Sign a Designated Player if it Costs More than their Soft Cap?
Soccer clubs that want to attract top soccer talent from the world can use the designated player option. By doing so, they need to record a maximum salary of $612,500 in 2022, even if that player’s salary is in the millions. After that, that maximum number will increase to $883,438 in 2027.
That means that while a player, let’s say, is making $5 million a season, they record their salary in 2022 as $612,500 against the $4.9 salary for positions 1-20 on their team. The remainder is up to the soccer club to cover via their revenue into their club.
Outside of signing a great player to a multi-million-dollar deal to help win games, the soccer club could see this as a financial for their organization. For example, David Beckham signing a $6.5 million contract with LA Galaxy in 2007 helped bring international attention to MLS and specifically LA Galaxy, which sold more tickets to games. In addition to selling more tickets, LA Galaxy also sold more than 300k shirts a season with Beckham’s name alone, which helps bring more revenue to the team and league.
Does Major League Soccer Have a Hard Salary Cap?
There is no hard salary cap in Major League Soccer, which is the same as Major League Baseball. Major League Soccer works on a salary budget for their team, but the Annualized Average Guaranteed Compensation also puts specific squads above others the salary threshold.
Unlike in the NFL, where there is a hard cap, MLS has more of a soft salary cap that allows wiggle room via the designated player signings.
What is Annualized Average Guaranteed Compensation?
Any bonus money via signing a player goes into the guaranteed compensation outside their annual base salary.
For example, let’s say that Inter Miami CF signs a player at $200k per year for four years with a $50k guaranteed signing bonus. The annual base salary of that player is $200k, but the bonus goes in as $212,500 per year since the bonus needs to break down over four years. That additional $50k bonus goes into the guaranteed compensation.
Another reason for guaranteed compensation is if a team needs to pay fees to an agent representing a soccer player.
What is GAM (General Allocation Money) in Soccer?
GAM is a way for soccer clubs to reduce the expense of a non-designated player or designated player from their books. MLS teams can increase their GAM pool by failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs, transferring a player to a team outside MLS, and qualifying to the CONCACAF Champions League.
What is Targeted Allocation Money in Soccer?
Targeted Allocation Money, or Discretionary TAM, generally means paying down a player’s salary over the maximum budget. The MLS league gives the team this money, which can help the soccer club pay down a designated player’s compensation, which can help free up a designated player spot for them to sign a new player. Soccer clubs can also send TAM to other teams via a trade to help sweeten the deals.
TAM is a way to help soccer clubs free up money to sign better international talent on their team. Singing international talent helps bring in more worldwide attention to MLS, which is ultimately the goal of the league.
What is the League Minimum Salary for an MLS Player?
The minimum salary for a player on the senior roster (1-20 spot) is $81,375 in 2021. In 2027, that league minimum will increase to $125,875. The minimum salary for players on the reserve roster is $63,547 in 2021.
How Much Do MLS Players Make Per Game?
Since there are 34 games during the MLS season, you can use the min and max salary number a player makes to back into how much they make per game. This model uses the minimum and max senior player salary who is not a designated player.
- Min Salary Senior Player: $2,393.38 per MLS game
- Max Salary Senior Player: $18,014.71 per MLS game
The average salary will then fall somewhere in this range, but this is a way to explain the average wage of an MLS player per game. If you take the average salary, according to the Athletic, of $398,725, then players make on average $10,776 per game.
2021 Guaranteed Salaries for Each MLS Team
Now that we’ve broken down how teams can spend money, it is essential to break down how much teams spent on guaranteed salaries in 2021. Any team can choose how much they want to pay to retain or gain talent on their team. Here is the breakdown from highest to lowest team salaries. The data below comes from The Blue Testament.
- LA Galaxy: $20,322,677
- Atlanta United: $20,058,025
- Toronto FC: $19,271,292
- Inter Miami: $17,546,831
- LAFC: $15,163,891
- New York City FC: $15,163,891
- Columbus Crew: $14,319,351
- Sporting Kansas City: $14,129,111
- Seattle Sounders: $13,588,370
- FC Cincinnati: $13,112,516
- Chicago Fire FC: $13,035, 568
- Nashville SC: $12,766,244
- CF Montreal: $12,725,037
- Real Salt Lake: $12,659,495
- Austin FC: $12,576,476
- FC Dallas: $11,986,192
- Portland Timbers: $11,980,061
- Minnesota United: $11,796,418
- Orlando City SC: $11,681,764
- New England Revolution: $11,681,240
- D.C. United: $11,506,162
- Houston Dynamo: $11,152,451
- San Jose Earthquakes: $11,036,928
- Vancouver Whitecaps: $10,962,821
- Philadelphia Union: $10,484,622
- New York Red Bulls: $9,976,295
- Colorado Rapids: $9,890,985
What is the Median Salary for an MLS Player?
MLS player salaries will vary depending on being a designated player or being on the bench. However, the average salary for MLS players, according to The Athletic, comes out to $398,725 for senior roster non-designated players.
What is the Maximum Non-Designated MLS Salary?
A non-designated player on the senior roster spot can make a max of $612,500 in the 2022 season.
Some of the Highest Earners in MLS
Check out the complete list of soccer player salaries for MLS via The Blue Testament.
- Carlos Vela: Makes $6.3 Million playing for the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) in 2022.
- Javier Hernandez: Makes $6 Million playing for LAFC
- Gonzalo Higuaín: Makes $5.57 Million for Miami CF
- Alejandro Pozuelo: Makes $4.69 Million for Toronto FC
- Luiz Araujo: Makes $3.9 Million for Atlanta United
Do Soccer Players Receive any Additional Money from Ad Revenue / Tickets Sales / TV Deals?
From the new CBA from 2021 – 2027, soccer players will share revenue from new media deals starting in 2023.
Do Players Receive Other Benefits and Compensation?
In addition to salary + any other revenue sharing, players also receive agreed-upon 401k plans with the team.
Conclusion: How Much Do MLS Players Make
In summary, MLS has a soft cap that they need to budget against roster spots 1-20. In addition to the soft cap of $4.9 million in 2022, soccer clubs can spend more than that on designated players, which helps them attract top talent in the world to play for their team.
As MLS keeps growing, so have minimum salaries for players. For example, a non-designated player on the senior roster spot will increase their minimum wage from $81k in 2022 to $125k in 2027. The same goes with non-senior roster spots since their minimum salary increase as the league grows with more stadiums, teams merchandise sales, TV contracts, and more.
Finally, it is important to note that MLS is one entity. It is best to think of each MLS club as a restaurant food chain that ultimately represents the company that they work for. The team owners are there to make MLS money, and the league lets the owners operate with certain criteria points to help maintain what is best for the league as a whole.