by Paul Kennedy @pkedit
The Major League Soccer Players Association's release of compensation figures for the 786 players under contract with MLS confirms how the league and clubs have changed how they spend on players.
MLSPA: 2021 Salary Guide
In the last five years, the number of players making more than $5 million a year in guaranteed has dropped from seven to three.
MLS player compensation ($5 million or more, Spring 2016)
1. Kaka (Orlando City), $7.167 million
2. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), $7.115 million
3. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), $6.5 million
4. Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), $6.132 million
5. Frank Lampard (New York City FC), $6.0 million
6. Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), $5.915 million
7. David Villa (New York City FC), $5.610 million
MLS player compensation ($5 million or more, Spring 2021)
1. Carlos Vela (LAFC) $6.3 million
2. Javier Hernandez (LA Galaxy) $6 million
3. Gonzalo Higuain (Inter Miami) $5.794 million
But the number of players earning at least $1 million has more than tripled from 23 to 72. The team with the most "millionaires" is a surprise: FC Cincinnati, MLS's worst team in 2019 and 2020 and last in the current overall standings.
FC Cincinnati, which opens its new stadium on Sunday, has six players making at least $1 million: No. 11 Jurgen Locadia, No. 19 Luciano Acosta, No. 26 Brenner, No. 50 Yuya Kubo, No. 54 Allan Cruz and No. 71 Kamohelo Mokotjo.
One team -- Sporting KC -- has five players making at least $1 million, while four -- defending champion Columbus, Inter Miami, Seattle and Toronto FC -- have four players. The fewest players any team has making at least $1 million is one by the FC Dallas, Minnesota United, the New York Red Bulls and San Jose.
Only six Americans rank in the top 50 in compensation:
6. Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), $3.602 million
29. Darlington Nagbe (Columbus), $1.71 million
33. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), $1.5 million
38. Gyasi Zardes (Columbus), $1.4 million
45. Jordan Morris (Seattle), $1.27 million
56. Kellyn Acosta (Colorado), $1.115 million
Compensation is just one player expense. The other thing has changed in recent years is the money teams have spent on transfer fees to acquire (and perhaps later re-sell) players.
Of the 50 most expensive player signings in MLS history, all but seven were made in the last five years (per Transfermarkt). LAFC has only three players making at least $1 million, but it has been one of the most aggressive MLS teams in terms of signing young players from South America.
MLS introduced Targeted Allocation Money in 2015 at a rate of $500,000 per team and increased allocation money (GAM and discretionary TAM) since then to $4,325,000 per team in 2021. (Before two rounds of re-negotiations, the amount was supposed to be $4,620,000 in 2021.)
Allocation money helps teams "pay down" the salary charge (compensation and acquisition costs) of players below the TAM maximum of $1,651,250 to the maximum salary charge of $1,651,250. The MLSPA figures for guaranteed compensation include base salary and all signing and guaranteed bonuses annualized over the term of the player's contract, including option years, but not necessarily the player's entire salary charge (notably performance bonuses).
The figures are for players under contract as of April 15, the day before the start of the 2021 season. MLS extended its primary transfer window through June 1 due to its late start so more signings are expected as European teams finish their seasons in May.