What MLS players' compensation says about recent success (or failure)

The MLS Players Association released its biannual salary guide with base salary and guaranteed compensation for players in MLS.

MLS players: 2022 salary guide

The numbers cover contracts for players as of April 15, so that doesn't include players signed between then and the end of MLS's primary transfer window in May 4 or new contracts players may have signed since then.

How teams have constructed their rosters in terms of who makes what amount and how they meet MLS roster rules regarding their overall salary charge and the salary charges of individual players says a lot about how well some teams are doing or not doing.

1. What is the Fire doing? The highest-paid player in MLS is the Chicago Fire's Xherdan Shaqiri, who makes $8,153,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2022.

There were some eyebrows raised when the Fire acquired the 31-year-old Swiss international from Lyon in February. He had started only nine Ligue 1 games in 2021-22 after moving from Liverpool, where he started just 18 Premier League game in three seasons.

In a release, Lyon stated the transfer fee for Shaqiri was 7 million euros ($8 million) and described the deal as "very favorable financially" in the context of the difficult situation big European clubs face.

Shaqiri was born in Kosovo to Albanian parents and moved to Switzerland when he was 1. He started out at FC Basel, where Fire sporting director Georg Heitz was the club's sporting director. Heitz described Shaqiri. a reserve on UEFA Champions League-winning teams at Bayern (2013) and Liverpool (2019), as "a game-changing player and someone who will bring joy to our supporters and the city of Chicago."

How has Shaqiri done? He has scored two goals and added three assists in nine games, but he has hardly been a "game-changing player" for the Fire, which has not won a game in almost two months and sits in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-5-4 record.

The Fire ranks fifth in MLS with total guaranteed compensation of more than $17.6 million, but almost half of that has been spent on Shaqiri. It spent more than $10.7 million in 2022 guaranteed compensation on three new players -- Rafael Czichos, Kacper Przybylko and Shaqiri -- while 21 of 28 players on the roster make less than $300,000 a year.

The seven players making more than $300,000 is easily the fewest number of players on any MLS team. (Surprise Austin FC has 18 players making $300,000 or more in guaranteed compensation.)

2. LAFC reloads from within league. LAFC sits in the lead for the 2022 Supporters' Shield with a record of 7-2-2. This comes after it failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 2021.

A big factor in the turnaround has been in influx of veterans acquired in trades or as free agents from other MLS clubs. The seven new players who have been acquired from other MLS teams and are playing all make more than $300,000 a year in guaranteed compensation.

1. Kellyn Acosta, $1,215,000
2. Ilie Sanchez, $1,150,000
3. Ismael  Tajouri-Shradi, $647,860
4. Franco Escobar, $550,000
5. Doniel Henry, $403,000
6. Ryan Hollingshead, $393,750
7. Maxime Crepeau, $302,500

3. Jesus Ferreira delivers. FC Dallas is best known for its former academy players who moved to clubs in Europe — Weston McKennie, Ricardo Pepi, Chris Richards and Reggie Cannon are all contending for places on the USA's 2022 World Cup team — but it has been winning this season in MLS with Homegrown players whom it has retained.

FC Dallas (second in the Supporters' Shield race with a 6-1-4 record) made Jesus Ferreira the highest-paid 2022 Homegrown player in MLS when it signed him to a new deal in January. Teammate Paxton Pomykal also ranks among the top five highest-paid Homegrown players on teams that originally signed them:

1. Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas) $1,499,000
2. Jordan Morris (Seattle) $1,370,100
3. Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake) $735,031
4. Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy) $712,167
5. Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas) $700,000

FC Dallas also gave Alabaman HG midfielder Brenden Servania a new contract, bumping his guaranteed compensation from $271,400 in 2021 to $455,833 in 2022.

4. Sounders hit Concacaf sweet spot. For years, observers have pointed to the weakness in MLS lineups in terms of the players teams signed below Designated Player thresholds.

The Seattle Sounders are an example of what a team can do with a balanced roster. It won the 2022 Concacaf Champions League with a starting lineup whose average compensation was more than $1.3 million a player.

The key is the balance in compensation throughout the lineup with five starters making more $1 million a year (tied for the most by any team in MLS) and eight of the 11 starters earning more than the 2022 maximum salary budget charge of $612,500.

1. Nicolas Lodeiro, $3,256,667
2. Raul Ruidíaz, $3,201,120
3. Albert Rusnak, $1,871,667
4. Jordan Morris, $1,370,100
5. Joao Paulo, $1,283,333
6. Cristian Roldan, $981,542
7. Yeimar, $719,092
8. Xavier Arreaga, $700,000
9. Stefan Frei,  $500,000
10. Nouhou, $344,274
11. Alex Roldan, $232,500

5. NYCFC and the art of roster maneuvering. The key number teams need to keep in mind when they build their rosters is $612,500. That's the maximum salary budget charge. If player makes more than that amount, teams have to "buy down" his salary, using Allocation Money (which can be accumulated in multiple ways) unless a player fits into a certain designation: Designated Player, Young Designated Player or player signed to a U22 Initiative Slot.

Defending champion NYCFC has used its City Football Group connections to build one of the best squads in MLS history in terms of the depth of young talent, mostly acquired from South America, but to do that it has had to learn how to maneuver MLS roster rules.

What also needs to be remembered that a player's budget charge includes not just guaranteed compensation but also loan fees, transfer fees, agent fees, so NYCFC has had to find ways to absorb the fees it has had to pay for most of its imports.

NYCFC has a league-high 12 players making guaranteed compensation at or above the 2022 maximum salary budget charge -- Vancouver, last in the overall standings, has the fewest with only three players at or above the 2022 maximum salary budget charge -- but on top of that it has two players signed to U22 Initiative Slots (players whose acquisition costs don't get absorbed into their budget charge).

1. Thiago Martins (DP, 2022 transfer), $1,962,000
2. Maxi Moralez (DP, 2017 transfer), $1,300,000
3. Talles Magno (Young DP, 2021 transfer), $1,198,000
4. *Alexandru Mitrita (DP, 2018 transfer), $1,150,000
5. Taty Castellanos (2019 transfer), $1,076,000
6. Heber (2018 transfer), $914,000
7. Alexander Callens (2016 free transfer), $814,000
8. Anton Tinnerholm (2017 free transfer), $800,000
9. Maxime Chanot (2016 transfer), $700,000
10. Alfredo Morales (2021 transfer), $662,250
11. Gabriel Pereira (2022 transfer),  $624,500
12. Santiago Rodriiguez (2021 loan), $612,500
*On loan.
U22 initiative: Nicolas Acevedo ($254,000, 2020 transfer) and Thiago Andrade ($199,600, 2021 transfer).

4 comments about "What MLS players' compensation says about recent success (or failure)".
  1. Donald Lee, May 18, 2022 at 9:29 a.m.

    I would find very interesting a deep dive into SSFC and NYCFC's roster finance.  Each team has "DPs" far in excess of the three allowed.  That means, as I understand it, they are buying salaries down with allocation money.  Where did that allocation money come from?  How much do they have left?  Etc.   How do they do it?

  2. Ben Myers, May 18, 2022 at 8:08 p.m.

    This look at salaries on 5 MLS teams explains the attraction for players to play in Europe, where salaries are generally a good bit higher, even in 2nd divisions like the English Championship.

    I was dumbfounded when I read that Chicago had signed Shaqiri.  He did not do that much playing for Liverpool, which is why he did not get the playing time. At the EPL level, his speed or quickness was an issue.  Maybe also in Ligue 1.

  3. R2 Dad replied, May 19, 2022 at 12:40 a.m.

    I think everything is relative. Lpool mat have the  deepest bench in the PL. Oxlsid Chamberlain also falls into the sub bracket. 2nd fiddle to Mane Firmino Salah is no shame.

  4. Alex Michalakos, May 19, 2022 at 1:05 p.m.

    The Fire did the same with Schweinsteiger. He was a big name in his 30's, not playing much at a big club, and was given $5-6Million for 3 years. He was not an impact player, and the rest of the Fire was average.  Seattle shows how a much better balance can work

    Shaqiri is decent for us, a better signing than Basti because he can bring some offense, but he is an in-between player--not a striker, not a #10, not a winger; he needs other top players around him. He is not the impact player like Reynoso, Zalarayan, Vela, Almiron.  It's overpaying because that's the European market, but MLS is now usually more careful with its money (except Miami)

    The Fire has given us a brand-new team every couple of seasons for the last 10 years, with the same results. The young S. American talent has never worked out and the Eastern European players hardly (Nikolic)

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