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MLS salaries not so inequitable

With the recent slew of Designated Player signings there have been a fair number of people fretting over the possible stratification of MLS. 

They see teams like the New York Red Bulls spending nearly $16 million on player salaries while others like the San Jose Earthquakes are barely spending $2.5 million and are worried that MLS is headed down the dreaded path of haves vs. have-nots.

With the MLS Player Union releasing updated salary lists yesterday, I figured now might be a good time to take another look at this issue.

Right away, you notice some obvious things. The Red Bulls basically lumped on $10 million in salary by signing Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry to $5 million-plus annual salaries. We also see that the Fire have leapfrogged the Sounders and Toronto FC for No. 3 on the list with a combined total of about $5.7 million. There's also an obvious gap from Nos. 4-5 with TFC spending about $5.2 million and the Sounders are down to about $2.9 million now that Freddie Ljungberg is off the books (although I assume the Sounders did have to pay about half his salary). Alvaro Fernandez is on the books for $300,000.

If you look a little closer, though, I'm not sure the problem is so glaring. 

Sure, the top-end salaries stand out like broken noses, but they are only two or three players on a 24-man roster. As we're reminded time and time again, roster depth is at least as important as high-end talent.

Once we look at median salaries, for instance, the inequities are not so clear.

The team with the highest median salary, for instance, is the Philadelphia Union at $119,000 annually. The top three median-salary teams, in fact, are all outside the big four spenders. Philadelphia, Columbus Crew ($112,000 median) and Kansas City Wizards ($110,000) all spend less than $3 million on player salaries. 

The Sounders are actually among the lowest median salaried teams at $73,000, more than only the New England Revolution ($71,000) and Chivas USA ($68,000). 

Another way to look at it would be to count up the number of players on each team making at least $100,000. By this metric, we find a similar lack of inequity.

No team has more than 15 players making at least $100,000 and no one has fewer than seven. Of the 16 teams in the league, 13 have between 13 and nine players making at least $100,000 a year.

The team with the most $100,000 players is the Wizards, a team that lacks a Designated Player and doesn't have anyone making as much as $250,000. 

New York (13), Los Angeles (12), Chicago (13) and Toronto (12) definitely have their share of well-paid players, but it doesn't strike me as swaying the balance of power.

I won't deny that some teams are going to outspend others, I'm just not convinced that it's going to ruin the league. As we can see here, every team decides how it's going to spend its money differently. I see no problem with that.

One thing seems clear to me, under the current rules it's basically impossible for a team to buy a championship.


Total Median <100k
New York 15.7m 97k 13
Los Angeles 11m 99k 12
Chicago 5.7m 100k 13
Toronto 5.2m 93k 12
Kansas City 2.9m 110k 15
Dallas 2.9m 80k 14
Columbus 2.9m 112k 12
DC 2.9m 81k 11
Seattle 2.9m 73k 9
New England 2.9m 71k 9
Philadelphia 2.7m 119k 13
Colorado 2.7m 80k 10
Salt Lake 2.6m 90k 12
San Jose 2.5m 95k 11
Houston 2.5m 96k 11
Chivas USA 2.5m 68k 7

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