Major League Soccer (MLS) is one of the most popular and competitive soccer leagues in the world, attracting some of the best players from different countries and regions. In this article, we will explore some of the key aspects of MLS, such as the salary cap, the net worth of the league and its teams, the upcoming schedule for the 2023 season, and the highest paid player in the league. We will also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about MLS and its players.
MLS salary cap and how does it work
The MLS salary cap is a limit on the total amount of money that each team can spend on player salaries in a given season. The salary cap is designed to ensure competitive balance and financial stability among the teams, as well as to promote the development of young and domestic players.
The salary cap for the 2023 season is set at $5.21 million per team, which is an increase of 5% from the previous season ¹. However, this does not mean that each team can only spend $5.21 million on player salaries. There are some exceptions and mechanisms that allow teams to exceed the cap, such as:
Designated Players (DPs)
Each team can have up to three DPs, who are players whose salaries are partially or fully exempt from the cap. DPs are usually star players who command high salaries in the international market, such as Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and Gonzalo Higuain. The first DP on each team counts $612,500 against the cap, while the second and third DPs count $924,000 each.
General Allocation Money (GAM)
GAM is a flexible resource that teams can use to sign or re-sign players, trade with other teams, or buy down the cap hit of DPs or other players. Each team receives a certain amount of GAM from the league every year, which varies depending on their performance, participation in international tournaments, or compensation for injured players. Teams can also acquire GAM from other teams through trades or transfers.
Targeted Allocation Money (TAM)
TAM is similar to GAM, but it can only be used to sign or re-sign players who earn more than the maximum salary budget charge ($612,500 in 2023) but less than the maximum TAM amount ($1.65 million in 2023). TAM can also be used to buy down the cap hit of DPs to the maximum salary budget charge, thus freeing up a DP slot for another player.
Homegrown Players (HGPs)
HGPs are players who have been developed by a team’s academy or affiliated youth clubs. HGPs are exempt from the cap and can earn up to $125,000 per year without affecting the team’s budget.
Supplemental Roster Players
These are players who earn less than $125,000 per year and occupy roster spots 21 to 24 on each team. Their salaries are also exempt from the cap.
Reserve Roster Players
These are players who earn less than $85,000 per year and occupy roster spots 25 to 30 on each team. They are usually young players (under 25 years old) or HGPs. Their salaries are also exempt from the cap.
With these exceptions and mechanisms, teams can spend much more than the salary cap on player salaries. For example, in 2021, the average team payroll was $9.9 million, while the highest payroll was $17.8 million by Toronto FC.
Net worth of MLS and its teams
The net worth of MLS and its teams is not easy to determine, as there is no official or public data on their revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, or valuations. However, some estimates can be made based on various sources and indicators.
According to Forbes, MLS generated about $980 million in revenue in 2019, which was a 7% increase from 2018 ³. However, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLS revenue dropped by an estimated 40% in 2020 . The league expects to recover some of its losses in 2021 and beyond, as it signed a new media rights deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision that will run from 2023 to 2028 and pay an average of $250 million per year .
On the expense side, MLS spends about 70% of its revenue on player salaries, which is higher than most other soccer leagues in the world. The league also invests heavily in infrastructure, such as stadiums, training facilities, academies, and technology. In addition, MLS pays an annual fee of $25 million to Soccer United Marketing (SUM), a subsidiary of MLS that handles the marketing and media rights of the league and other soccer entities, such as the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Mexican Football Federation.
As for the assets and liabilities of MLS and its teams, they are largely unknown, as the league and its owners do not disclose their financial statements or balance sheets. However, some clues can be found in the expansion fees that new teams pay to join the league. In 2021, MLS welcomed two new teams: Austin FC and Charlotte FC. Austin FC paid $200 million to join the league, while Charlotte FC paid $325 million . These fees reflect the perceived value and potential of the league and its teams in the market.
Based on these fees and other factors, Forbes estimated the average value of an MLS team at $550 million in 2020, which was a 30% increase from 2019 . The most valuable team was Atlanta United, valued at $845 million, followed by LA Galaxy ($835 million) and LAFC ($825 million) . The least valuable team was Colorado Rapids, valued at $295 million .
Upcoming schedule for the 2023 season
The 2023 season will be the 28th season of MLS and will feature 29 teams: 14 in the Eastern Conference and 15 in the Western Conference. The season will start on February 25 and end on October 8, with each team playing 34 regular-season games (17 home and 17 away) . The playoffs will begin on October 21 and end on December 9, with 14 teams qualifying for the postseason: seven from each conference . The MLS Cup final will be held on December 9 at the home venue of the higher-seeded team .
Some of the highlights of the 2023 schedule are:
- The debut of St. Louis City SC: The newest expansion team will join MLS in 2023 and play in the Western Conference. St. Louis City SC will play its home games at a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown St. Louis, with a capacity of 22,500 seats .
- The All-Star Game: The annual showcase event will feature the best players from MLS facing a top international club. The date, venue, and opponent for the 2023 All-Star Game have not been announced yet, but it is expected to take place in late July or early August .
- The Leagues Cup: The interleague tournament between MLS and Liga MX (the top soccer league in Mexico) will return in 2023 after being suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The Leagues Cup will feature eight teams from each league, with four MLS teams qualifying based on their performance in the previous season and four Liga MX teams qualifying based on their performance in the previous two seasons . The tournament will run from July to September, with a single-elimination format and a neutral-site final .
- The Campeones Cup: The annual match between the champions of MLS and Liga MX will also return in 2023 after being suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The Campeones Cup will take place on September 20 at the home venue of the MLS champion .
- The Canadian Championship: The domestic cup competition for Canadian soccer teams will also resume in 2023 after being suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The Canadian Championship will feature teams from MLS (Toronto FC, CF Montreal, Vancouver Whitecaps), Canadian Premier League (CPL), League1 Ontario (L1O), Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ), and possibly other leagues or regions . The tournament will run from May to September, with a single-elimination format and a neutral-site final . The winner of the Canadian Championship will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League (CCL), which is the continental club competition for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Highest paid player in MLS
The highest paid player in MLS is Xherdan Shaqiri, who plays for Chicago Fire. Shaqiri is a Swiss international who joined MLS in January 2023 from Liverpool FC, one of the top clubs in England and Europe. Shaqiri signed a four-year contract with Chicago Fire that pays him $8.2 million per year in
base salary and $9.4 million in total compensation, which includes bonuses, incentives, and other payments . Shaqiri is a versatile and creative attacker who can play as a winger, a playmaker, or a forward. He has won several trophies in his career, such as the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA European Championship, and the Swiss Super League. He is also the captain of the Swiss national team and has scored 23 goals in 96 appearances for his country .
Shaqiri is followed by Carlos Vela, who plays for LAFC. Vela is a Mexican international who joined MLS in 2018 from Real Sociedad, one of the top clubs in Spain. Vela signed a five-year contract with LAFC that pays him $6.3 million per year in base salary and $6.5 million in total compensation . Vela is a prolific and skillful striker who can also play as a winger or a second striker. He has been one of the best players in MLS since his arrival, winning the MVP award and the Golden Boot in 2019, when he scored 34 goals and assisted 15 more in 31 games, setting a new league record for most goals in a single season . He has also represented Mexico in three World Cups and two Copa America tournaments, scoring 19 goals in 72 appearances for his country .
The third highest paid player in MLS is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who plays for LA Galaxy. Hernandez is another Mexican international who joined MLS in 2020 from Sevilla FC, one of the top clubs in Spain. Hernandez signed a three-year contract with LA Galaxy that pays him $6 million per year in base salary and $6.1 million in total compensation . Hernandez is a clinical and opportunistic finisher who can play as a center forward or a support striker. He has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Bayer Leverkusen, winning several titles, such as the Premier League, the FA Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the UEFA Europa League. He is also the all-time leading scorer for Mexico with 52 goals in 109 appearances for his country .
MLS is a dynamic and growing soccer league that offers exciting and competitive action for fans and players alike. The league has a unique and complex salary cap system that allows teams to attract and retain some of the best players in the world, while also promoting parity and sustainability among the teams. The league also has a high net worth that reflects its popularity and potential in the market. The league also has a busy and diverse schedule that features various tournaments and events that showcase the talent and quality of MLS and its teams. The league also boasts some of the highest paid players in soccer, who are stars on both club and national level.
Most Asked Questions and Answers
Here are some of the most asked questions about MLS and its players, along with their answers:
Q: How many teams are in MLS?
A: There are currently 27 teams in MLS: 14 in the Eastern Conference and 13 in the Western Conference. Two more teams will join MLS in 2023: St. Louis City SC and Sacramento Republic FC.
Q: How do teams qualify for the playoffs?
A: The top seven teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs, which are held from October to December. The playoffs consist of four rounds: the play-in round (for teams ranked 6th and 7th), the conference quarterfinals, the conference semifinals, and the conference finals. The winners of each conference final advance to the MLS Cup final, which is held at the home venue of the higher-seeded team.
Q: How do teams qualify for the Concacaf Champions League?
A: The Concacaf Champions League (CCL) is the continental club competition for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Four MLS teams qualify for the CCL every year: the MLS Cup champion, the Supporters’ Shield winner (the team with the best regular-season record), the U.S. Open Cup winner (the domestic cup competition for U.S. soccer teams), and the Canadian Championship winner (the domestic cup competition for Canadian soccer teams). If any of these spots are taken by a Canadian team or a team that has already qualified through another method, then the next best-ranked U.S. team in the regular season takes their place.
Q: What is the difference between Designated Players and TAM players?
A: Designated Players (DPs) are players whose salaries are partially or fully exempt from the salary cap. Each team can have up to three DPs, who are usually star players who command high salaries in