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Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams’ Entire Payroll Combined

The MLS Players Association released the 2024 salary information on Thursday. Here are the key points:

  • Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi is the highest-paid player in MLS, with a guaranteed compensation of $20.4 million—more than the combined guaranteed compensation of 25 MLS rosters.
  • The average MLS salary in 2024 is $594,390, reflecting a 12.1% increase from $530,262 in 2023.
  • Inter Miami has the highest total salary expenditure in MLS, with a guaranteed compensation of $30,913,242, while CF Montréal has the lowest at $10,812,226.
WJ3K2X6QLNLZXOYT57TWMEZG2U Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams' Entire Payroll Combined
FILE PHOTO: May 11, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi (10) looks towards the play against CF Montreal during first half at Stade Saputo. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Read More: Will Premier League Remove VAR As Clubs Vote To Whether Scrap It And What Happens Next?

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Top 10 Earners In MLS

1. The league’s two top earners remain unchanged from 2023:

  • Lionel Messi leads with $20.4 million in guaranteed compensation.
  • Toronto FC winger Lorenzo Insigne is second at $15.4 million.

2. Miami defender Sergio Busquets, previously listed on a target allocation money (TAM) salary in 2023, has jumped to third with an annual salary of $8.8 million, overtaking:

  • Chicago Fire’s attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who is earning $8.2 million for the third consecutive season.
  • No other player beyond this quartet has ever earned over $8 million in a single season in MLS history.

3. Five additional MLS players will earn over $5 million in guaranteed compensation this year:

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  • Sebastián Driussi (Austin, $6.7M)
  • Federico Bernardeschi (Toronto, $6.3M)
  • Emil Forsberg (New York Red Bulls, $6M)
  • Héctor Herrera (Houston Dynamo, $5.2M)
  • Hany Mukhtar (Nashville, $5.2M)
Lionel Messi is The Highest paid Player In MLS Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams Entire Payroll Combined Image Credits The Athletic Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams' Entire Payroll Combined
Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams Entire Payroll Combined, Image Credits – The Athletic

4. Hany Mukhtar has seen a significant increase in his earnings, up from $3.2 million in 2023.

5. Overall, Nashville’s wage bill has surged to the fourth-highest in MLS due to raises for Mukhtar and others:

  • Last season, Nashville ranked 12th with $17 million in guaranteed compensation.

How Can Miami Pay Messi So Much With A Salary Cap? The Financial Dynamics Behind Lionel Messi’s MLS Salary

At $20.4 million, Lionel Messi is not only the highest-paid player in MLS but also earns more than the entire rosters of 25 individual teams. How is this possible in a salary-capped league?

The MLS salary cap is complex and multifaceted. For those unfamiliar, it combines a hard cap with budget terms that don’t necessarily reflect a player’s actual take-home pay. Messi is a designated player, which means his budget charge against the cap is only $683,750, the senior maximum. This is the same cap charge for CF Montréal midfielder Victor Wanyama, even though his salary is $1.8 million.

The designated player rule, introduced in 2007 to bring David Beckham to the league, allows clubs to pay a designated player any amount out of pocket while only counting the senior maximum number against the cap. The rest depends on how much a club’s ownership is willing to spend.

Messi’s $20.4 million salary is just one part of his contract, which includes significant value escalators and is among the most unique deals in MLS history. Messi also has the option to purchase a minority ownership percentage in Inter Miami upon retirement.

Additionally, Messi will earn extra income through MLS partners. He will receive a portion of revenue from new MLS Season Pass subscriptions on Apple TV and has compensation agreements with Adidas, his long-time sponsor and the kit manufacturer for MLS, and with Fanatics.

Top and Bottom MLS Teams in Salary Spend

Nashville’s rise in salary expenditure coincides with both Los Angeles clubs dropping in the league-wide rankings, partly due to the departures of Javier Hernandez (LA Galaxy) and Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC). Miami leads all MLS teams, spending $41.7 million on player salaries, with Messi alone earning more than the total salary spend of 25 other teams. Toronto FC’s total of $31.4 million is primarily driven by Insigne and Bernardeschi’s combined $21.7 million income, while Shaqiri’s former record-setting salary propels Chicago into third place at $25.1 million.

XCBQ6DVZGFI6RPUWQ4UXPFJLWU Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams' Entire Payroll Combined
Jan 22, 2024; Dallas, TX, USA; Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) in action during the game between FC Dallas and Inter Miami at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Top and Bottom MLS Teams in Guaranteed Compensation

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

Most Frugal Squads in Guaranteed Compensation:

  • St. Louis City leads in frugality, with combined salaries just over $12 million.
  • CF Montréal is close behind with one of the lowest wage bills.
  • Other teams with low spending include Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, and Charlotte FC.

Bottom Spend on Guaranteed Compensation

  1. St. Louis – $12M
  2. Montréal – $12M
  3. Real Salt Lake – $13.6M
  4. San Jose – $13.6M
  5. Charlotte – $14.5M

At the time of release, three of the bottom five teams in salary spend are above the playoff line. Conversely, three of the top five teams in salary spend are also above the playoff line.

Earnings of MLS’s Newest Additions

This winter witnessed numerous key signings in MLS, and for the first time since their arrival, their salary data is public.

Lionel Messi is The Highest paid Player In MLS Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams Entire Payroll Combined Image Credits The Athletic Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams' Entire Payroll Combined
Image Credits – The Athletic

Highest-Paid Newcomers:

  1. Emil Forsberg – $6.04M
  2. Luis Muriel – $4.34M
  3. Hugo Cuypers – $3.53M
  4. Joseph Paintsil – $3.36M
  5. Jonathan Rodríguez – $2.63M
  6. Gabriel Pec – $2.46M
  7. Liel Abada – $2.45M
  8. Petar Musa – $2.23M
  9. Djordje Mihailovic – $1.68M
  10. Hannes Wolf – $1.51M

The New York Red Bulls made a significant investment by bringing star Emil Forsberg from RB Leipzig, with his $6.04 million salary and a multi-million transfer fee. Dante Vanzeir was last year’s highest-paid player at $1.49 million for 2023.

The LA Galaxy’s two new designated players — Joseph Paintsil and Gabriel Pec — were also considerable investments in both transfer fees and salaries. Despite their success in the league, their combined salaries are still less than what the Galaxy paid Chicharito in 2023 when the Mexican striker earned $7.4 million before leaving as a free agent.

Highest-Paid Free Agent Signings

FC Cincinnati defender Miles Robinson and Chicago Fire midfielder Kellyn Acosta emerge as the top two earners from the free agent pool, coincidentally also considered the top two free agents this winter.

Highest-paid free agent signings:

  1. Miles Robinson: $1.58M
  2. Kellyn Acosta: $1.56M
  3. Josef Martínez: $1.31M
  4. Julian Gressel: $1.09M
  5. Nicolás Lodeiro: $800K

Robinson transitioned to Cincinnati after a stint with Atlanta United, where he evolved from an end-of-the-bench SuperDraft pick to a contender for MLS defender of the year. Acosta, on the other hand, ventured into free agency for the first time this offseason after playing for various MLS teams and chose to join the Fire.

Miles Robinson Image Credits Getty Images Lionel Messi is The Highest-paid Player In MLS, Earning More Than 25 MLS Teams' Entire Payroll Combined
Miles Robinson, Image Credits – Getty Images

Josef Martinez made a move to CF Montréal, while Julian Gressel has proven to be one of the most impactful marquee free agent signings, playing a vital role in Inter Miami’s starting XI. Nico Lodeiro completes the top five, with the Seattle Sounders legend making his way to Orlando City this offseason.

Additional Trends and Notes

  1. Average MLS Salary Increase: The average MLS salary for 2024 stands at $594,390, marking a significant rise of 12.1% from $530,262 in 2023.
  2. Total Guaranteed Compensation: The released data outlines a total of $518,902,285 in guaranteed compensation across 873 players.
  3. San Diego FC’s First Listing: The 2025 expansion club, San Diego FC, has its first player’s salary listed: goalkeeper Duran Ferree, a U.S. U-17 international, earning $71,401. Ferree, a San Diego native, is currently on loan with USL side Orange County SC.
  4. MLS Pool Players: The release includes information on seven players categorized as being in the “MLS Pool” who are still under MLS contracts. Notable among these seven are striker Jozy Altidore, earning $2.24 million, and recently retired midfielder Michael Bradley, with a salary of $725,000.

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