The Current Landscape of MLS Salaries and the Incredible Growth to Come

Updated: 2294 Football

The expansion of the MLS and the cost involved, the incredible amount of money now invested in soccer in the US

The Current Landscape of MLS Salaries and the Incredible Growth to Come
Dan Tracey Data Scientist and Football Editor

Writer, analyst, podcaster, Spurs fan. Three out of four is not bad. If there is a data angle, I will find it.

No other national league across the world has expanded at a rate in which the MLS has over the past decade, because whilst La Liga, the Premier League and the rest of Europe have only got bigger, soccer in the United States of America was building on the foundations set just over a decade ago.

Back in 1996 when things got started in the MLS, most involved behind the scenes probably barely knew the rules of the sport. 

Fast forward 11 years, and the arrival of David Beckham catapulted North America’s top division to the forefront of sports news and subsequently saw the money in the MLS multiply

Now in 2022, European players happily adopt an American way of life because of the wages involved and we no longer see top players from the sport’s most popular continent move to North America just to get a payday for their final few years. Instead, many in the MLS are on bigger salaries than some Premier League stars, and if you play outside of the top five European leagues, it’s a no-brainer to move to the MLS if the offer comes in. 

Moreover, even this season sees Napoli legend Lorenzo Insigne move to Toronto FC in a deal worth a stunning $15 million a season when the Serie A season concludes. 

This is more than any other player in Italy, a couple million more than the recent jaw-dropping contract of Dusan Vlahovic at Juventus, and on the level of the annual salaries witnessed in the money-motivated leagues like the Chinese Super League and the Saudi Professional League.

Here, we’ll run through which club ships out the most each year in the MLS from the MLS Players Association.

Franchise Conference Annual Payroll
Inter Miami CF Eastern $17,803,479
Toronto FC Eastern $17,005,133
LA Galaxy Western $16,843,212
Atlanta United FC Eastern $16,189,478
FC Cincinnati Eastern $15,495,147
Los Angeles FC Western $14,931,416
Chicago Fire Eastern $13,634,756
Columbus SC Eastern $13,498,225
Sporting Kansas City Western $13,434,421

The Eastern Conference dominates the top end of the annual payroll in the MLS, and they have done so for many years. Indeed, the Western side of things is seeing a great wave of soccer influx as they have had three new franchises join the division in the last few years, but over in the Eastern table, FC Cincinnati, Charlotte FC, Atlanta United, and Inter Miami have all joined within the same time, while New York City FC and Orlando City also joined not long before to make it six new franchises in seven years.

Inter Miami are one of the most recent having joined the pick of the MLS back in 2020, and with their incredible financial backing of the man that started it all, Beckham, as well as the billionaire, Jose Mas, they ship out just short of $18 million per season. 

Toronto, have also been no stranger to expensive salaries with the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Sebastian Giovinco over the last decade taking up a large sum of the overall pot each year, and they are second in the list.

Toronto FC

No stranger to spending big money on players like Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Sebastian Giovinco

Now, ahead of the monumental move that sees Insigne swap Serie A title races for the Canadian cold on a $15 million annual salary, the boundaries for a franchises payroll is set to expand to a scale we see in a top European league. 

Throw into this the fact the owners are getting wealthier like with Inter Miami, and it’s only a matter of time until the Designated Player Rule (appropriately nicknamed the Beckham Rule) gets a serious revamp.

Out in the Western Conference, they see eight of the bottom 10 in the annual payroll list come from this side. The likes of LA Galaxy haven’t really progressed much since Beckham became the first designated player with them on an annual salary of $6.5 million back in 2007, and despite sitting third in the 27-team list, they have sort of stagnated.

Austin FC is another interesting one, as they joined the MLS Western Conference back in 2021 and despite now being one of the biggest cities in the United States with a soccer team, they sit 26th on the annual payroll list. 

Moreover, their owner, Anthony Precourt, formerly owned Columbus Crew and is well aware of what it takes to kick on as a soccer franchise as he bought the Ohio team for a then-record $68 million back in 2013.

The New York Red Bulls, a club that has plateaued and often dropped below standards in the last decade, sit 19th on the annual payroll list and it's further evidence to how a franchise must progress with finances if they are to follow the growth of the sport. 

At the same time, their rivals across the city, NYCFC, are the reigning MLS Cup champions and managed to conquer the country within less than a decade as they have been putting pen to paper on gargantuan deals for top European players for years. At an annual payroll totaling $12,997,519, they continue to be one of the biggest spenders and they prove this is the way to move forward.

It's no surprise seeing Atlanta United continue to pay so well, with their European influx and desire to keep hold of the likes of Josef Martinez, but it's interesting to see clubs like Sporting Kansas City and Chicago Fire so high u as they look to move towards employing local talent, while continuing to struggle to make a mark in the playoffs.

Either way, as of 2022, the salaries are increasing rapidly and they are set to go to the next level with the addition of Insigne at Toronto in the next few weeks.

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