In Natal, 1445 miles from their Sao Paulo training base and hotel, strong winds and high humidity greet the USMNT today. As the team prepares themselves to face an opponent in Ghana who has proven to be the bane of US Soccer’s World Cup hopes, they do so with a squad where almost half of the roster plays domestically in MLS.
Historically, in the time that the USMNT and MLS have co-existed, no World Cup has seen a higher MLS representation than the 1998 World Cup in France where 16 of the 22 players on the roster plied their trade in the contiguous United States. Since then, Major League Soccer has never matched ’98 levels of representation, but they have held their own on USMNT World Cup rosters , except for 2010.
Ironically, the team that featured the least number of MLS players and the most number of European and Mexican based players was not Jurgen Klinsmann’s, the man who feels strongly about US players playing in the most competitive leagues at the highest levels, but rather his predecessor, Bob Bradley. From a 4:19 distribution under Bradley, Klinsmann has brought the ratio much closer to even with a 10:13 MLS to Foreign based distribution of players in his World Cup final roster.
Of the ten MLS based players in Klinsmann’s squad, only Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey had been members of Bob Bradley’s 2010 squad, and at the time had actually been part of the nineteen foreign based players. None of the MLS based players from 2010 made it into the 2014 squad.
Beyond being among the best players in MLS, the USMNT also represent some of the highest paid players in the league. Only Deandre Yedlin makes less than a six figure salary, but to be 20 years old and only $8,000 off, it’s only a matter of time. Every other player on the roster not only breaks six figures a year but they make $200K+ while Gonzalez, Bradley and Dempsey find themselves among the elite 12 millionaire players in MLS.
Six figure salaries among USMNT players, even historically is not rare. Going back to 2006, each World Cup squad has only had one MLS player making under the six figure mark: Robbie Findley in 2010, and Clint Dempsey in 2006 before he left for England.
Additionally, in this year’s squad only three of the ten players were not among the top four highest paid players on their respective teams and only one fell below the top seven. 2006 was similar with four players below the top four highest paid for their respective teams and only Dempsey finding himself outside the top six. 2010 continues to be the exception with only Donovan and Buddle, both playing for LA among the top four highest paid players while Bornstein and Findley were both outside the top seven highest paid players on their respective teams.
For all the consistency in high levels of pay, salaries have shown an upward trend.
The first thing to recognize is that for average salary, Gonzalez, Dempsey and Bradley’s contracts drag up the average, while Donovan’s $2 million contract with the Galaxy in 2010 does the same thing. Though 2010, for the third statistic running, sticks its nose at 2006 and 2014, the growth in average and median compensation from 2006 to 2014 is still significant. Even with the outliers impact on average salary, the median salary still grew 47% from ’06 to ’14, while the median in ’14 sits 50K above the average in ’06.
The median USMNT MLS player is also almost two times the average salary league wide, even when you include the millionaires, while the total compensation for all MLS players in the USMNT squad makes up 14.4% of the league’s total payroll.
The actual on field impact of roster breakdowns by domestic vs foreign leagues is difficult to make beyond the simplicity of goal count is compounded by the fact that in 02′ and 06′, the two identical distribution years, the US was coached by Bruce Arena, while 2010 had Bob Bradley in charge and now in 2014 Jurgen Klinsmann has the helm. Each coach’s preferences as well as a number of other factors contributed to the progression of the USMNT in each tournament and this year is no easier to predict.
Despite this unpredictability, the growth in compensation of MLS players, especially the elite chosen to represent the USMNT in World Cup competition, is something that isn’t surprising. They take on Ghana today in a Round of 16 rematch from 2010 and while large payroll does not buy you wins, high compensation can be indicative of high quality and the USMNT will need the highest level of quality possible today as well as against Germany and Portugal.