Despite the league’s shift toward developing young players, there are arguably more stars in Major League Soccer than ever before.
Right across the league, there are household names and icons that’ll be familiar to European audiences plying their trade across the pond and that’s without even mentioning the GOAT himself.
Of course, not all the big names that move to MLS taste success. For every David Beckham, there’s a Rafa Marquez. And for every Thierry Henry, there’s a Lothar Matthaus.
The MLS Player’s Association (MLSPA) recently published its salary guide for the 2023 season, showing us just how much each player is earning right now. Naturally, the top 10 is dominated by giants of the game and the league itself, but not all of them have worked out as planned.
Let’s take a look at which of Major League Soccer’s highest earners have been a hit or a miss:
10. Josef Martinez
Club: Inter Miami
Base salary: $4,000,000
Guaranteed compensation: $4,391,667
Nowadays with Inter Miami, Josef Martinez is very much a rotational option and a sidekick to Lionel Messi, but during his Atlanta United days, ‘El Rey’ was the most feared player in the whole of MLS and a serial winner.
9. Christian Benteke
Club: DC United
Base salary: $4,250,000
Guaranteed compensation: $4,432,778
After a slow start, Christian Benteke has been banging in the goals for DC United this season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite done enough to help the four-time champions back into the Playoffs, but he cannot be individually blamed.
8. Douglas Costa
Club: LA Galaxy
Base salary: $3,000,000
Guaranteed compensation: $4,508,333
Douglas Costa’s spell in California has been hampered by injury and poor form, and he’s done absolutely nothing to help Major League Soccer’s most successful club return to the top.
7. Hector Herrera
Club: Houston Dynamo
Base salary: $4,750,000
Guaranteed compensation: $5,246,875
Hector Herrera was another who endured a slow start in MLS, but fast forward to the latter stages of 2023 and it’s clear to see the incredible impact he’s had. The Mexico international has hit four goals and 10 assists in MLS play so far this season, helping the Houston Dynamo finally return to the Playoffs for the first time since 2017, while also leading them to glory in the US Open Cup.
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6. Sebastian Driussi
Club: Austin FC
Base salary: $3,800,000
Guaranteed compensation: $6,022,500
Despite Austin FC’s struggles this season, their talisman Sebastian Driussi has still been chipping in with goals and assists, just as he did last season when leading them to the top of the Western Conference.
5. Federico Bernardeschi
Club: Toronto FC
Base salary: $3,125,000
Guaranteed compensation: $6,295,381
Federico Bernardeschi has undoubtedly been the better of the two Italian stars that rocked up to Toronto last season, scoring 13 goals in 46 TFC appearances so far. But the fact remains his team are rock bottom overall and woefully underperforming.
Club: LA Galaxy
Base salary: $6,000,000
Guaranteed compensation: $7,443,750
Chicharito has barely played this season due to injury but over the previous two campaigns, was lethal, scoring 35 goals in regular-season play alone. Fitness issues should never count too harshly against a player.
3. Xherdan Shaqiri
Club: Chicago Fire
Base salary: $7,350,000
Guaranteed compensation: $8,153,000
Has Xherdan Shaqiri been decent in a Chicago Fire jersey? Yes. Have they become a Playoff team since he arrived? No (not yet anyway). Is that enough, given his eye-watering salary? Probably not, despite some remarkable moments.
2. Lorenzo Insigne
Club: Toronto FC
Base salary: $7,500,000
Guaranteed compensation: $15,400,000
The arrival of a prime Lorenzo Insigne — alongside Bernardeschi — was supposed to usher in a new era of dominance from Toronto FC and, yet, here we are just 32 games, 11 goals and zero MLS Cup Playoffs appearances later… Oh, and millions and millions of dollars.
1. Lionel Messi
Club: Inter Miami
Base salary: $12,000,000
Guaranteed compensation: $20,446,667
The GOAT arrived in Florida and immediately started doing GOAT things. Injury has slowed the fanfare down a little, but Messi already has 11 goals and a trophy in the bag after just 13 appearances. We can’t wait to see him get a full MLS season under his belt.