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Soccer players' salaries in the MLS vary greatly. Some of the more popular stars in the MLS bring in substantial earnings on par with what most world-class athletes make in soccer leagues abroad and in other major domestic sports leagues such as the NFL and the NHL. On the other hand, inexperienced prospects and journeymen of the MLS tend to pull in far smaller paychecks that pale in comparison to those of lower-tier athletes of similar stature in other professional sports leagues in the United States. As such, average MLS salary figures can become greatly distorted. The MLS Players Union posts annual reports of its player salaries for those in search of complete details.
As of 2010, the top salaries in the MLS peaked around $7 million. English midfielder David Beckham ranked as the league's highest-paid player, according to the "New York Times." In 2009 he brought in $6.5 million in guaranteed compensation from his LA Galaxy club. Other top earners for 2010 include Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez of the New York Red Bulls, who both commanded salaries of over $5 million for the season. Several more players got more than $1 million in guaranteed money for 2010, including Juan Pablo Ángel, Freddie Ljungberg and Landon Donovan.
The salaries of most rookies and undrafted players out of college in the MLS stand in stark contrast to the massive salaries of the stars. According to a 2007 article in the "Washington Post," nearly 30 percent of the players in the MLS held developmental contracts, which paid somewhere in the range of $20,000 per year. Even as recently as 2009, base salaries for the lesser-known players of the MLS still hovered between the humble range of $20,000 and $40,000 per season.
The average guaranteed salary in the MLS for the 2007 season was $115,432, according to the "Washington Post." This figure has gone up slightly since then, but the average earnings of players in the league remains in the $100,000 to $150,000 range as of 2010. However, it's worth noting that this average is highly distorted by the lucrative contracts of the few stars of the MLS. The average salary for most players drops significantly if the small number of superstar salaries are removed from the equation.
Designated Player Rule
The MLS adopted the "Designated Player Rule" as part of new salary cap regulations in 2007. The rule essentially allows every MLS team to sign elite players that would otherwise be too expensive to fit under the franchise's salary cap. Popularly dubbed as the "Beckham Rule," this stipulation has helped teams bring in many international stars since its inception including David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Denilson. In April 2010 the MLS announced an update to the rule, which allows every MLS club to sign up to two Designated Players with the option to purchase a third Designated Player for an additional luxury tax that requires the team in question to pay $250,000 in allocation money to be split evenly between the rest of the franchises in the league that do not have three Designated Players.
The MLS continues to grow in popularity, bolstering its fan base and increasing exposure with the additions of world-class stars and new franchises. These signs point to a positive future for the league and its players. However, current trends for MLS player salaries are not entirely good. During the 2009 season Jack Bell of the "New York Times" wrote that "the rich stayed rich and poor stayed relatively poor." Similarly, Grahame L. Jones of the "Los Angeles Times" published a piece in 2010 citing the fact that many of the top American players end up leaving the MLS for more challenging and better paying opportunities in foreign soccer leagues. American superstar Landon Donovan agreed with this assessment, and was quoted as saying, "Unfortunately, that's where we still need to be able to compete in this league, financially."
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