Foreign or Domestic: The Spending Habits of MLS Clubs in 2014

Last week, Business of Soccer took a look at the number of players in Major League Soccer (MLS) from each part of the world and how much each region gets paid.

READ: Where Does MLS Spend its Salary Cap?

This analysis showed that the value of foreign-born talent is still relatively high in the league.  To better understand the salaries of MLS players, we will take a look at how each club chooses to spend their salary cap and how each club compensates American and Canadian players compared to foreign-born players in the league.  To begin, we will divide each club’s roster into American/Canadian-born players and foreign-born players and see how each club builds their roster.

Fifteen of the nineteen clubs in MLS have more domestic players on their rosters than players born outside of the U.S. and Canada.  New York, Portland and Vancouver are the three teams that have more foreign-born players while Montreal has exactly the same number of foreign-born and domestic players.  It was these same four teams that had a majority of foreign-born players on their rosters in 2013.  Toronto had a very balanced roster in 2013 but has since overloaded on American and Canadian players in 2014, most likely coinciding with the hiring of General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko, MLS salary cap guru.

It also should be noted that the most successful clubs in the 2014 regular season have an overwhelming number of domestic players on their rosters.  LA Galaxy, DC United, Columbus Crew, and New England Revolution each have more than twenty domestic players and each are ready to enter the post-season and compete for MLS Cup.  Toronto FC is the only team with more than twenty domestic players on their team that will miss the playoffs for their eighth straight season.

But this breakdown alone does not paint the entire picture of how teams spend their salary cap.  A club may have a large number of domestic players but compensate many of them at the league minimum because they are unproven players.  To further understand how clubs spend their money, we must look at the percentage of domestic players on each roster and the percentage they take up in each team’s payroll.  The same is done for foreign players in the charts below.  This helps determine the value of domestic players for each club and eliminates the spending differences between each club.



No surprise to see teams such as Chicago, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Real Salt Lake, and San Jose with even distribution of pay to their domestic players.  This indicates that these teams do not give large paydays to foreign Designated Players (DPs).  The teams that spend disproportionally more on domestic players include D.C, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Real Salt Lake, and San Jose.  Most likely, this is because the club signed one or two domestic players to DP contracts (e.g. Eddie Johnson for D.C, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi for Sporting Kansas City, etc.).  Regardless if the club spends more on domestic players or only one or two, these clubs seem to place importance or value on domestic talent.

Notice teams such as Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Montreal, New England, New York, and Portland spend a disproportionate amount on foreign players.  Either these teams pay very little to domestic players on the roster or they do not have an expensive DP from the U.S. or Canada on their payroll.  The most glaring team to note is New York, with an astounding 91% of the payroll going to foreign players when only 61% of the club is made up of foreign players.  New York’s plan may shift from signing flashy foreign players to building more domestically with the rumored departure of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill and the arrival of New York City FC next season.  Portland follows a similar trend with 55% of the Portland roster taking home 80% of the club’s payroll.

The difficulty of building a successful MLS team has been well documented.  Navigating the salary cap in MLS has become an art that some front office personnel are beginning to master.  Signing superstars from foreign nations might bring fans to the stadium, but has never been the magic bullet for success in MLS.  Analysis of the salaries of domestic and foreign players cannot necessarily predict a club’s success, but it certainly provides more insight as to the spending habits of clubs.  This might be off-putting to some MLS fans who want the domestic league to invest more in domestic talent.  However, no matter how each club spends their money, the magic bullet for fan support is winning matches – no matter who is on the pitch.


What do you think about the roster/salary makeup of each team in MLS with regard to domestic vs. foreign players? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

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