As the U.S. men’s national team begins a new competitive era Tuesday in the Concacaf Gold Cup, there’s plenty of discussion over the relative quality of the player pool available to first-year manager Gregg Berhalter.
With regards to the squad’s MLS-based players, there’s a new data point in that discussion in the form of the 2019 MLS Salary Guide, released last Wednesday by the league’s players union.
And in terms of market price, the caliber of the squad that opens Group D play against Guyana in Minnesota is underwhelming.
In part because of late injuries to midfielders Tyler Adams and Duane Holmes, 17 of the 23 players suiting up for the Americans are currently signed with MLS clubs (including goalkeeper Zack Steffen, whose transfer to Manchester City will be made official in July). Of those, eight have total guaranteed annual compensation that is lower than the league average figure of $414,803.
Below is each MLS-based U.S. player’s guaranteed annual compensation. Those who earn below the league average salary are bolded. Where each player’s salary ranks relative to their club teammates in parentheses:
- GK) Sean Johnson – $400,000 (Tied 10th)
- GK) Tyler Miller – $77,565 (21st)
- GK) Zack Steffen – $260,000 (12th)
- D) Reggie Cannon – $80,250 (24th)
- D) Nick Lima – $218,438 (15th)
- D) Aaron Long – $800,000 (Tied 2nd)
- D) Daniel Lovitz – $97,453 (18th)
- D) Walker Zimmerman – $600,000 (6th)
- M) Michael Bradley – $6,500,000 (1st)
- M) Djordje Mihailovic – $111,000 (16th)
- M) Cristian Roldan – $596,542 (9th)
- M) Wil Trapp – $593,746 (6th)
- F) Paul Arriola – $707,000 (3rd)
- F) Jozy Altidore – $6,332,250 (2nd)
- F) Jonathan Lewis – $121,000 (16th)
- F) Jordan Morris – $619,600 (6th)
- F) Gyasi Zardes – $1,471,667 (1st)
So what’s it all mean? Player salaries are never directly proportionate to player quality, so it’s not as simple as saying the Americans are only as good as an average MLS side. And this version of the U.S. squad is perhaps more reliant on foreign-based players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Matt Miazga than previous sides.
Even so, there are some truths we can extract about the American team and the country’s pro soccer landscape from the above data:
- This team is not only young, but also inexperienced: A big factor skewing some of those contracts downward is the relatively short pro careers of the players who earn them. Tyler Miller, Reggie Cannon, Djordje Mihailovic and Jonathan Lewis are all under their first pro contracts. U.S. teammates like Walker Zimmerman and Cristian Roldan, who each saw their salaries more-than-double when inking recent contract extensions, provide a guide for what those less experienced players may be worth for their second contracts.
- Few U.S. players are considered club building blocks: In pro sports, the expectation of leadership comes with a price tag. And only two MLS-based Americans — Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley and Coumbus Crew SC’s Gyasi Zardes — are the top earning players for their club sides. Expanded further, only five are in their club’s five highest-earning players. And five MLS-based American players aren’t even among their team’s 11 highest earners.
- You can’t measure national team growth via MLS growth: Twenty-four years after its foundation, MLS has evolved from a primary focus on giving American players a place to play to a focus on making money and winning trophies. That ultimately creates a higher level of competiton, which is good for the Americans who play in it. But it means MLS clubs care more about the quality of the players they develop or sign than their nationality. The league’s continuing development is no guarantee of correlation for the U.S. team.