U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, right, and Michael Bradley, left, are making the most money in guaranteed compensation among MLS players, according to MLS Players' Union documents. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
The highest-paid player in Major League Soccer continues to be an American, though this time around it's a different newcomer taking the top spot on the MLS salary list, released Thursday by the MLS Players' Union. U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley is at the top of the latest list, with a base salary of $6 million in 2014.
His Toronto FC teammate Jermain Defoe has the same base salary, but his guaranteed compensation of $6.18 million falls short of Bradley’s $6.5 million. Last year’s base salary leader, Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey, is now No. 3, making the same $4.9 million base salary as he was last year upon his arrival from Tottenham. Dempsey’s guaranteed money tops the league list at $6.7 million.
The L.A. Galaxy’s Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan fill out the top five, at $4.5 million base and guaranteed and $4.25 million base/$4.58 million guaranteed, respectively.
Other Designated Players on the list include: Gilberto ($1.15 million base/$1.21 million guaranteed), Pedro Morales ($1.19 million base/$1.41 million guaranteed), and Americans Omar Gonzalez ($1 million base/$1.25 million guaranteed), Maurice Edu ($650,000 base and guaranteed), Chris Wondolowski ($600,000 base $650,000 guaranteed) and Eddie Johnson ($505,000 base/$613,333.33 guaranteed).
As the MLSPU writes on its website, the difference between the “base” and “guaranteed” numbers has to do with bonuses for signing, marketing and agent’s fees. These are annualized across the length of the player’s contract to determine his guaranteed compensation number.
Also, the numbers are from contracts signed with the league. Any team-specific contract information is not included, and neither are any outside endorsement deals.
MLS player salary trends since 2007 -- average salaries in red, median in green -- including the most recent data from April 1. (Source: MLS Players Union)
A total of 555 players were listed in the document, with an average salary of $186,258.90 across the league.
Among non-Designated Players, New England Revolution center back José Gonçalves holds the top spot, making a $450,000 base salary. Houston Dynamo midfielder Alex López is the lowest-paid DP, at $90,000 base salary. Transfer fees can be taken into account when determining whether a player occupies a DP roster spot, for which teams are allotted three.
After a slight downturn in 2013, the average salary is up nearly $40,000 this year. Toronto FC’s summer spending spree accounts for most of it, as all three of its DPs are in the top 11 salaries in the league. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, meanwhile, who is likely to start for Brazil in this summer's World Cup, is on the books for just $192,000 base salary ($202,000 guaranteed).
A more indicative number is the median, which is up $5,000 from last season. The $80,000 median in 2014 is the highest the league has seen. While the average salary has trended decidedly upward since David Beckham joined the league in 2007, the median has stayed steady.
The current salary cap for clubs is $3.1 million, though teams regularly spend much more while using different player acquisition mechanisms. DPs only count up to $387,500 against the cap, for example.
The current collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the MLSPU expires at the end of the calendar year.