Major League Soccer at the World Cup: Salary and Performance


Ahead of the USA’s must-win matchup with Ghana last Monday, Business of Soccer took a look at the MLS representation within the USMNT ranks for this World Cup alongside the previous three tournaments with a focus of the financials as well as squad composition of European vs MLS based players.

This week, as groups begin to finalize, pre-tournament favorites slip and less favored teams grab the spotlight, we look at the MLS representation beyond the USMNT in Brazil.  In total, there are twenty one MLS players among the final rosters of all thirty-two nations participating in the World Cup in Brazil. The split is almost dead even between the number of players in the USMNT and the number representing other countries.

Total MLS Salaries in Brazil

The inclusion of Julio Cesar is debatable because while he played in MLS for Toronto FC, he did so on loan from QPR in England who is expected to recall him due to their promotion back into the Premier League.  Despite his parent club situation though, part of the importance of MLS representation in Brazil has to do with recognition of the league and being the starting keeper for Brazil, his play for Toronto FC, regardless of the permanence, is discussed and therefore warrants an inclusion on the list.

Certainly the most recognizable name on the list, Australian Tim Cahill is by far the highest paid of the global MLS players.  Counting himself among the elite 12 millionaire salary players in MLS, Cahill’s Salary is over 14x the next highest earner among the other global MLS players at the World Cup.  There also appears to be an earning gap between American World Cup participants and the global players. To illustrate this, Matt Besler, second lowest earner among the US group, would be tied for 5th on the global player list if he represented any country other than the US.  

The gap is interesting because as World Cup caliber players, the expectation is that they would be paid competitively, especially since only three players in the global group compete on the same team as USMNT members in MLS.  Additionally, both groups have the same number of DP contract players.  Among the USMNT, Dempsey, Bradley, Wondolowski and Gonzalez are all on DP contracts, while among the global group, Minda, Boniek Garcia, Bengston and Cahill are DPs as well.

From the data above it is clearer that the earning gap in guaranteed compensation for the most part is not as large as it first appeared to be.  The average salary alone includes four millionaires which skews the data as seen when comparing all the MLS players combined vs just global and then removing Cahill.  The median salary more effectively shows that while American MLS players in Brazil are earning more, it’s not as substantial once you account for the ultra-high earning DP players.

A combined six other nations are represented in the global players group: Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Iran, Australia and Brazil.  Honduras has the highest count with four MLS players, followed by Costa Rica who has three, while Ecuador, Iran, Brazil and Australia each have one MLS representative. 

MLS World Cup Team Distribution Watermarked

Despite this record high number of players at a World Cup for MLS, performance of the players has been a mixed bag.  At the moment, Australia has been eliminated while Honduras and Iran both face extremely low odds of advancing out of their group. Ecuador, in the same group as Honduras has a higher chance of moving on while Costa Rica and Brazil have booked passage into the round of 16.  If the United States gets the result they need against Germany and they advance out of Group G, a majority of MLS’ total representation will stay in tact.

What MLS has to hope for is that their remaining players perform at a high level.  As of right now, MLS players account for only four of the 100+ goals in the competition so far and none of the assists.  Clint Dempsey has two of those goals while the now eliminated Tim Cahill has the other two. With Costa Rica in action today at 12:00PM EST on ESPN2 vs. England, Honduras and Ecuador both taking the field on Wednesday, and the US playing on Thursday there is definitely plenty of soccer left to be played for MLS in Brazil.

What do you think about the MLS’ representation in the 2014 World Cup across the competing nations? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.