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By the numbers: Diving into newly released MLS player salaries

Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world

The MLS Players Association has released its annual salary guide, which means it’s time to see just how much money was spent across the league, and, more importantly, how efficiently that money was spent.

For a start, the total compensation ponied up this year in MLS was $261.1 million, spread across 694 players for an average of $376,258. That compares with $190.6 million in 2017 spent on 601 players for an average of $317,198. That’s an average increase of 18.6%. I’d take that raise in a heartbeat.

Astute readers will note that 694 players is 30 players per team; the total rosters include players rostered on attached USL affiliated teams such as ATLUTD2. Atlanta United’s total roster, for example, is 32 players (second most players on the list, in fact, after FC Dallas with 34). However, that 30 per team drops a hair as the list of salaries includes Clint Dempsey (who is officially listed as retired), 2 players already signed with and being paid by FC Cincinnati (Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe), as well as 9 players not currently on any team’s roster. Those last 9 by the way are being paid a total of $1.49 million, or $165,607 each. Not bad for couch-surfing, without even having to post annoying ads on Facebook comment threads all day.

The highest paid player in MLS remains Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco, who collects a cool $7.1 million a year, beating out his teammate Michael Bradley who earns a measly $6.5 million. Toronto continue to shell out a lot of money, with those two joined by Jozy Altidore ($$5.0 million) in the top 20 wage-earners. Two other teams have 3 players in that top 20: the LA Galaxy and, wait for it…the Chicago Fire. Atlanta United has only one: Miguel Almiron ($2.30 million), who checks in at #13. The top 20 players combine for $73.3 million, or 28.1% of the total.

Amazingly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not in that elite group (the LA Galaxy’s 3 players in that list are the dos Santos brothers and Romain Alessandrini). He comes in at a lowly #27, drawing a mere $1.50 million.

With that, it’s hardly surprising that Toronto has the league’s highest payroll by far. The club is forking out $26.6 million for its 29 players, $9.1 million more than the next club on the list (the Galaxy). That’s 10.3% of the money being paid to all currently active players plus Dempsey.

Atlanta’s $11.6 million (Miggy gets 19.8% of that) is 9th on the list. Interestingly, the New York Red Bulls are spending just $8.1 million. That’s the fourth least in the league. If you take that a bit further and look at it on a per player average basis, the Red Bulls drop to second-lowest overall. Who has the smallest payroll? Well, that would be the Houston Dynamo, who spend a miserly $5.9 million. The New England Revolution are also pretty Scrooge-like at $7.5 million, but then Robert Kraft does have to save his pennies to pay a 41-year-old football player after all.

If you want to judge how well-spent the money was, obviously Toronto went from a super-efficient year in 2017 to a disastrous production rate this year. Those $26.6 million have generated just 33 points, costing them a whopping $804,824 per point, easily the worst in the league over the also expensive Chicago Fire whose production was $501,017 per point (that’s what you get for spending $6.1 million on a broken-down German midfielder/defender). The Red Bulls have spent just $118,603 per point to top the list, and Atlanta’s $168,473 comes in at a creditable #5. I guess it’s no surprise that the team (almost) in the nation’s financial capital gets the most bang for its buck.