MLS Players Association released 2024 salary information on Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi is the highest paid player in MLS with a guaranteed compensation of $20.4 million – more than the total guaranteed compensation of 25 MLS listings.
  • The median MLS salary is $594,390 in 2024, up 12.1% from $530,262 in 2023.
  • Inter Miami has the highest salary cap in MLS, with a total guaranteed compensation of $30,913,242. CF Montréal is the lowest at $10,812,226.

Top 10 earners in MLS

The league’s top two earners remain unchanged from 2023. Messi leads all players with his $20.4 million in guaranteed compensation, while Toronto FC winger Lorenzo Insigne is second with 15.4 million dollars. After being listed on a Target Money Assignment (TAM) salary in 2023, the Miami linebacker Sergio Busquets remained in third place with an annual salary of $8.8 million, passing the attacking midfielder xherdan ShaqiriWHO Chicago Fire is paying $8.2 million for the third straight season. No other player beyond that quartet has taken home more than $8 million in any given season in MLS history.

Five more MLS players will earn over $5 million in guaranteed compensation this year: Sebastián Driussi (Austin, $6.7 million), Federico Bernardeschi (Toronto, $6.3 million), Emil Forsberg (New York Red Bulls6 million dollars), Hector Herrera (Houston Dynamo5.2 million dollars) and Hany Mukhtar (Nashville, $5.2). Mukhtar is among the few players to earn a top salary on top of their earnings in 2023, when he received $3.2 million. Overall, Nashville’s wage bill grew to the fourth-highest MLS figure among his raises and others across the roster; last season, Nashville ranked 12th with $17 million in guaranteed compensation.

How can Miami pay Messi that much on a salary cap?

At $20.4 million, Lionel Messi is not only the highest-paid player in MLS, but he’s paid more than the entire roster of 25 individual teams. How can that be in a league with limited salaries?

The salary cap in MLS is a mysterious world. For the uninitiated, it’s a mix of a hard cap and budget conditions that have nothing to do with a player’s actual pay. Messi is a designated player and, in terms of the salary cap, his budget fee is only $683,750, the senior maximum. That’s how much a certain top player counts against the catcher, the same for the CF Montréal midfielder Victor Wanyamadespite his salary being $1.8 million.

The designated player rule was introduced in 2007 as a way to bring David Beckham into the league. The rule says a club can pay the DP whatever they want out of pocket and they hit a fixed, high cap. The difference is how much ownership of a particular club is comfortable spending.

At $20.4 million, Messi’s contract carries significant value and is among the most unique deals in MLS history. Messi may buy a minority ownership stake in Inter Miami when he retires.

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In addition, he will receive additional income through MLS partners. He will receive a share of the revenue from the new MLS Season Pass subscriptions on Apple TV, He also has compensation agreements from Adidas, which is his long-time sponsor and kit manufacturer for MLS, and Fanatics.

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, Getty Images)

Top and Bottom MLS Teams in Salary Spending

Nashville’s rise coincides with both Los Angeles clubs are falling in the standings across the league, in part due to the departure of Javier Hernandez (LA Galaxy) and Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC). Miami leads all MLS teams in spending $41.7 million on player salaries, while Messi alone takes home more than 25 other teams spend on salaries across their entire roster. Toronto FC’s $31.4 million total is largely driven by Insigne and Bernardeschi’s combined earnings of $21.7 million, and Shaqiri’s previous record salary helps Chicago rank third with $25.1 million.

Higher costs for guaranteed compensation

  1. Miami – $41.7 million
  2. Toronto – $31.4 million
  3. Chicago – $25.1 million
  4. Nashville – $21.4 million
  5. Cincinnati – 18.7 million dollars

The city of St followed by winning the 2023 Western Conference table by leading a different ranking. Their combined salaries barely exceed $12 million, narrowly beating out CF Montréal for the most frugal team in terms of guaranteed compensation. The real Salt Lake, San Jose earthquakes AND Charlotte FC round out the five lowest wage bills in MLS.

Lowest costs for guaranteed compensation

  1. St. Louis – $12 million
  2. Montreal – 12 million dollars
  3. Real Salt Lake – $13.6 million
  4. San Jose – $13.6 million
  5. Charlotte – $14.5 million

At the time of release, three of the bottom five teams in salary cap spending are above the playoff line. Three of the top five teams in salary cap space are above the playoff line.

What are the newest additions to win MLS?

This winter saw many key signings come to MLS. For the first time since they joined, their salary data is public.

The highest paid newcomers

The New York Red Bulls broke the bank to bring in star Emil Forsberg from RB Leipzig with his $6.04 million salary and a multi-million dollar transfer fee. Dante Vanzeir was last year’s highest-paid player at $1.49 million through 2023.

LA Galaxy’s two new DPs – Joseph Paintsil and Gabriel Pec – came with serious investments in transfer fees as well as wages. Both have been quick successes in the league. Their combined salaries are still less than what the Galaxy paid Chicharito in 2023, when the Mexican forward received $7.4 million before leaving as a free agent.

(Photo by Alfredo Lopez, Getty Images)

Who are the highest paid free agent signings?

FC Cincinnati defender Miles Robinson and the Chicago Fire midfielder Kellyn Acosta are surprisingly the top two earners from the free agent pool. They were also considered the top two free agents on the board this winter.

Highest paid free agent signings

Robinson joined Cincinnati after sitting out the first half of his career Atlanta United, where he went from a bottom-of-the-bench SuperDraft pick to an MLS Defender of the Year candidate. Acosta had played for several MLS teams, but headed into free agency for the first time this offseason and took control of his own destiny. He decided to sign with Zjarr.

Josef Martinez went north of the border with CF Montréal while Julian Gressel has been the most productive free agent signing so far, a key point in Inter Miami’s starting line-up. Nico Lodeiro completes the top five, with Seattle Sounders legend goes to Orlando City this offseason.

Additional trends and notes

  • The median MLS salary is $594,390 in 2024, up 12.1% from $530,262 in 2023.
  • In total, the release outlines $518,902,285 in guaranteed compensation for 873 players.
  • 2025 expansion club San Diego FC has one player’s salary listed: goalkeeper Duran Ferree, a U.S. U-17 international who earns $71,401. The San Diego player is on loan with USL side Orange County SC.
  • The release includes information on seven players who are categorized as being in the “MLS Pool” and are still under MLS contracts. Most notable among the seven are forward Jozy Altidore ($2.24 million) and the recently retired midfielder. Michael Bradley ($725,000).

(Feature photo: Getty Images; Design by Eamonn Dalton)

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