MLS Player Salaries Sparks Debate

By Nicholas Spiller

Major League Soccer is trying to bring big names to America and raise interest in the sport, but although a big name may attract some new fans, it results in an astonishing disparity of salaries between American soccer players and world-wide superstars who are looking to cash in on fading careers.

In 2012, nine MLS players will earn a base salary of over $1 million. For a small league, this is quite an accomplishment, but for American soccer players it is not all that good. Eight of the nine players are foreigners, including the likes of David Beckham, Torsten Frings, Rafael Marquez, and Thierry Henry. The people who actually earn a decent salary are a bunch of aging big names that cannot crack the starting lineup of a decent team in Europe (Except, Beckham and Henry who certainly could), so they come here to earn money and smile. And then Marquez doesn’t even play with a smile but instead doles out cheap shots and fouls.

Meanwhile, the Americans trying to play professionally in the league earn far less. Chris Wondolowski has had a stalwart MLS career. He won two MLS cups with the Houston Dynamo. In 2010, he won the MLS Golden Boot award after leading the league with 18 goals. In 2011, he lost the tiebreaker for the award, netting 16 times. Currently he sits atop the scoring chart with 11 goals to his name. Wondolowski has also featured for the USA Men’s National Team. With a resume that shows he is the best striker in the MLS right now, Chris Wondolowski will earn $300,000. That is roughly 5% of Thierry Henry’s $5.6 million figure.

Henry’s team mate on the Red Bulls, Kenny Cooper, is tied in the MLS goal scoring category also with 11 goals. He is set to earn $275,000 in 2012. Now Henry, to his credit, has played well and earned that figure with his fantastic career and superstar name. He currently is third in the league with nine goals. But what about some of these other “big names”?

Toronto FC actually houses three. Torsten Frings was a great German midfielder. Danny Koevermans never was much of a Dutch star forward, but realized he could earn a seven figure salary in the MLS for the simple fact that he is Dutch. Julian DeGuzman is Canadian and had a marginally successful career in Germany and now earns nearly $2 million a year in the MLS. What amazes me with these “star” foreigners is that Toronto FC just won their first game of the year this week, after nine straight losses. They are the worst team in MLS.

How about Robbie Keane? The Irish striker had a great career with many British clubs, including Tottenham and Liverpool. This season playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy he will earn roughly $3 million dollars. So far, he has scored three goals. The Galaxy also boasts the biggest name of all in the MLS, David Beckham, whose salary was cut before the season and leaves him also earning $3 million in 2012. Though he did score this trademark beauty of a free kick, the Galaxy reside in the bottom of the Western Conference, a far cry from the team that won the MLS last season.

The Galaxy does boast the one American making over $1million dollars in 2012 with Landon Donovan. Donovan has been a true American star, and is recognized around the country. But in looking at the USA’s recent national team squad, one notices that only five players currently play for MLS clubs. Most stars, such as Clint Dempsey, play abroad where they actually earn a decent living. As the MLS continues to try advertising itself with ancient glory, our best players feel the need to take their game elsewhere, and that is the true tragedy of today’s MLS.

If the MLS wants soccer to develop into an American sport, it needs to eventually become predominantly American. The expensive foreigners do attract attention and fans, but too much money is being thrown at questionable talent such as Marquez and Koeverman. Henry and Beckham are the type of marquee signings that the MLS should pursue since they actually can still bring something to the table and are truly world class players. Scrapping a few of the less impressive players would save the league millions, literally.

I feel it would also be wise to use this money saved on keeping more Americans in the MLS. Dempsey is likely too great a talent and belongs at a major European team, but players like Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu may be better served to star for an American club. They would be excellent players in the league and would draw more support than some old foreigner who is just looking to bolster his pension fund.

Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: