MLS Salary Picture: Looking at some of the main talking points

Must be nice when all of your boyhood clubs want to pay you millions of dollars to play for them. - USA TODAY Sports

The MLS Players Union has released salary information for the first time in 2013 and with that the chatter among MLS circles has once again begun as the salary figures always raise a number of questions. We run down some of the major talking points.

Any time that the MLS Players Union releases the league salary information it leads to an inevitable flurry of articles calling for increased spending, discussing who are the most under/overpaid players around the league, comparing the league to the big spenders across soccer and even in other sports, as well as trying to figure out just how much cap space your favorite team currently has.

You also get a stream of articles available to remind us all that these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt because of the source. The MLS Players Union is in place to represent the players and their interests so there is always the suggestion that these numbers may be released to help paint the picture that many players are being underpaid and keep fan support on the side of players heading into the next round of CBA negotiations which are already on the horizon.

The release of the salary figures has enough information in it to write a large collection of articles but considering that we have already covered the Toronto FC perspective and asked who is represents the best bang for the club's buck this article will run down some of the biggest talking points and direct you to some of the better articles out there to help shed light on many of the questions listed above.

  1. The best place to start really sinking your teeth into the salary numbers is over on Sounder at Heart where Liviu Bird posted this excellent rundown of things. His article notes that in 2013 the mean salary in the league sits at $141,903.13 (all his figures are using the base salary number) while the mean salary drops to $102,661.81 when you remove the designated players from the equation. It is also worth noting the the league minimum salary rose 4% over last year and now stands at $35,125 with a total of 62 players around the league making that figure. The data also shows that MLS salaries on the whole are down this year by over 10 million dollars but that makes sense when you consider that the league lost four players last off-season that were bringing in well over one million dollars each season with David Beckham, Rafa Marquez, Julian De Guzman, and Torsten Frings making up for a large chunk of that decrease.
  2. You can head to any number of articles to find out just who the top paid players in the league are this season. That number always seems to grab the headlines (or maybe just the search hits) as everyone wants to know just how much Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry are making this season. The million dollar men in MLS this year (based on guaranteed compensation) are: Landon Donovan (2,500,000.00), Robbie Keane (4,333,333.33), Marco Di Vaio (1,937,508.00), Tim Cahill (3,625,000.00), Thierry Henry (4,350,000.00), Obafemi Martins (1,725,000.00), Danny Koevermans (1,663,323.33), and Kenny Miller (1,132,492.00).
  3. Taking a look at the top paid Canadians in the league there is a change at the top now that Julian De Guzman is no longer in MLS. That leaves Dwayne De Rosario as the highest paid Canadian as he is set to bring home $645,333.33 in guaranteed compensation this year which also makes him the highest paid player in the league that is not counted as a DP. Other well paid Canadians include Ante Jazic (132,187.50), Dejan Jakovic (303,341.33), the highest paid Canadian on a Canadian team: Patrice Bernier (162,333.25), Will Johnson (243,750.00), and Terry Dunfield (120,000.00).
  4. South of the border there is plenty of talk about how there are not enough Americans among the league's highest paid players. As SoccerAmerica points out only two Americans, Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski, bring in more than $400,000 a year in guaranteed compensation. So if Americans are underpaid in MLS what does that say about Canadians when you consider that the above list included every Canadian making more than $100,000 in guaranteed compensation.
  5. Wondering how Robbie Keane's salary compares to the big money makers in other US sports? Well, as Sean Nolan points out it really does not. Consider that the average salary in the NBA is 5.15 million and you get the sense that even the biggest names in MLS are making peanuts compared to the stars of other sports. Kobe Bryant makes nearly 30 million each year before factoring in endorsements, Alex Rodriguez made roughly 30 million last year for swinging a piece of wood, the top three NFL QBs (Drew Brees, Payton Manning, and Aaron Rogers) all make nearly 20 million, and even in the NHL you have Alexander Ovechkin bringing home 9.5 million. So even if you are the top paid player in MLS you still are not in the conversation for top paid athletes in the US.
  6. Back in Canada there are a couple of articles on Canadian Soccer News that take a closer look at the numbers but Phillipe Germain's look at each clubs return on investment is worth checking out. The article offers a lot of numbers but includes the list of total spending on salary where all three Canadian teams appear in the top 6 spenders. The Montreal Impact at 5.29 million are 4th, the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4.81 million are 5th, and Toronto FC comes in 6th by spending 4.76 million. They all trail some way behind New York and LA as both clubs spend over 9 million. There are plenty of other interesting numbers in there was well such as cost per point and cost per goal but with the season still young those numbers can be a bit skewed.
  7. Over on the Gaurdian's website Graham Parker provides some insight into why these numbers are made public. This article was posted last when when the numbers were released for the final time in 2012 but the point that can be taken away from it still applies this time around. The article quotes Players' Union President Bob Foose's explanation for making the figures public, "It's something we've always done. It's not to our bargaining advantage for it to be kept secret. If anything the owners might want it to be kept secret... Occasionally it can make a player from another country or league uncomfortable, and I can see it could be embarrassing – but we explain our reasons to them and it has actually been put to the vote by players before, and they've backed it so we'll continue to do it if we think it helps us." Having the numbers publicly available helps the Union when it comes time to bargain with the league over the CBA but it also helps individual players with their own negotiations. When Chris Wondolowski was looking to get a new deal from the San Jose Earthquakes he could easily point out what other top scorers around the league were making and ask for similar compensation.

There are certainly other talking points that have been explored but if your goal is to dig a bit deeper into the numbers the above articles should at least help put things into perspective and provide a few more talking points. The release of salary data happens twice a year (sometimes more) and is something that is unique to MLS and it certainly adds an interesting element to the way players are viewed as it allows fans not only to assess their performance on the field but also compare it to their salary.

If you come across other good articles of come up with some questions of your own share them in the comment section as it is always enjoyable to dig a little deeper into these numbers.

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