The 10 highest paid players in MLS history

Lorenzo Insigne will reportedly become the highest-paid player in MLS history when he joins Toronto FC in July, earning a tidy $12.42 million a year. But who are the current top 10 highest paid players in league history?

MLS has long been considered an early retirement destination for big European stars. And while that’s changed somewhat in recent years, many of the biggest earners over the 26 years of competition have fallen into this category.

Here we take a look at the 10 highest-paid MLS players of all time, using figures from Capology that only consider players’ base salaries.

That means there’s no place for David Beckham, who according to Forbes has pocketed a total of $250 million in the US, most of it from lucrative sponsorships and the percentage of LA Galaxy revenue he earns during his time at the club Has. Other big names like Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco also missed out.

So who makes the cut? Well look here.

10. David Villa – $5.61 million

A true legend of Spanish football, Villa joined New York City FC after wonderful spells at Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, where he won three La Liga titles, a Champions League, two King’s Cups and a couple of Super Cups.

Having also won the World Cup and European Championships as part of this brilliant Spanish team in the late noughties and early tens, it’s no wonder NYCFC was willing to work hard to bring him in.

With 80 goals in 126 games in North America, he also gave them a healthy return on their investment.

=6. Jermain Defoe – $6.00 million

Defoe, the first of three Englishmen on this list, was also one of the most expensive players in MLS history when he joined Toronto FC in 2014.

I didn’t work it out.

Defoe got off to a good start, scoring 12 goals in his first 21 games. But an injury halted his progress and he subsequently fell out with the Toronto hierarchy.

“Personally, I don’t think Defoe will come back,” Toronto FC president Tim Leiweke said as Defoe recovered. “If he doesn’t want to be here, get rid of him. If you don’t want to be here, get out of our way.”

Defoe did just that, returning to England with Sunderland a year and six days after leaving Spurs.

Toronto F.C

READ: The 10 most expensive signings in MLS history – & how they fared

=6. Michael Bradley – $6.00 million

Bradley signed for the same club as Defoe for exactly the same fee and wages a day before the ex-Tottenham man’s arrival. Here the similarities end.

While things went wrong for Defoe, Bradley has become a legend in Toronto, playing over 250 games and winning an MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield in 2017.

Though his salary has now been significantly reduced to reflect his advancing years, Bradley remains an important part of the Toronto setup and hopes the arrival of Insigne will inject some much-needed energy into a team that finished the 2021 season runners-up the Eastern Conference.

=6. Frank Lampard – $6.00 million

Lampard, another New York City FC player, joined the City Group club after a season at the Manchester branch.

While his time at Manchester was surprisingly productive, his 18-month stint alongside Pirlo and Villa in MLS was cut short by injury when age became apparent for a player who was already 37 when he joined him came.

However, 15 goals in 31 games is not a bad record.

As he left, his manager Patrick Vieira gushed: “Everyone talks about Frank’s scoring in midfield but I can tell you after a year working with him he brings so much more to a team than just goals.

“What Frank has brought to the dressing room is something just as important – his experience, elite mentality and mentoring of the younger members of our squad have all helped us a lot this year.”

= 6. Javier Hernandez – $6.00 million

We loved Chicharito in his Premier League pomp – and apparently so did the LA Galaxy bosses. In fact, they loved him so much that they gave him $6 million a year to join them in 2020.

However, his first season was nothing short of a disaster. Two goals in 12 games after moving from Sevilla (and yes, we forgot he ever played for Sevilla too) was certainly not what Galaxy fans were expecting.

But after a while to settle in, Hernandez was back to normal in 2021, scoring 17 goals as his team narrowly missed the playoffs.

A particular highlight was his hat trick against the New York Red Bulls in April.

5. Bastian Schweinsteiger – $6.10 million

Another ex-Manchester United man, but one who was as comfortable in United red as a polar bear in the Sahara desert.

Nonetheless, he has taken Chicago Fire at his expense by transforming himself into a top-notch central defender. Strange? Very. Brilliant? Absolutely damn loud.

READ: The Last Farewell: How Schweinsteiger Became MLS All-Star Centre-Back

4. Steven Gerrard – $6.20 million

We’re pretty sure Steven Gerrard asked for an extra $200,000 for his contract just so he can say he makes more than Lampard.

3. Kaka – $6.66 million

The 2007 Ballon d’Or winner was a stunning footballing specimen at his peak. The pace, the physicality, the skill, the passing game and the finish. He really had everything.

Unfortunately for Orlando City fans, he had quite a bit of that left behind when he arrived there in 2015 with a hefty salary.

Orlando hasn’t made the playoffs once in the Brazilian’s three seasons in Central Florida, his points tally falling in each.

“I no longer enjoy playing football as I feel pain every time I finish a game,” Kaka told Globoesporte in October 2017.

“My body doesn’t handle it very well now and at the age of 35 it’s always very difficult to recover from it.”

A somewhat sad end to a career that was sometimes wonderful. Still, there were some magical moments from Kaka in the Citrus Bowl.

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – $7.2 million

From taking out the A full-page ad in the LA Times, from his arrival and a 45-yard scorcher on his debut against LAFC, to 52 more goals in 58 games and two MLS All-Star XIs, Ibrahimovic’s stint at LA Galaxy was a box-office blast .

But you wouldn’t expect less from the great Swede, right?

As he left in 2019, he said humbly: “I came, I saw, I conquered. Thank you LA Galaxy for making me feel alive again. To the Galaxy fans – you wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome.”

1. Xherdan Shaqiri – $7.35 million

A new signing at number one, ex-Liverpooler Shaqiri, joined the Chicago Fire in February 2022 for $7.5 million after a poor stint in Lyon, signing a deal worth $7.35 million a year plus bonuses .

That status as the highest-paid player in MLS history won’t last long, as Insigne’s impending arrival will blow all other salaries out of the water. In fact, the Italian will earn more than the total payroll of 17 of the league’s 28 teams.

Anyway, back to Shaqiri. It’s a bit early to judge as he’s barely had time to pull his socks up over his outrageously large calves, but a record three goals and two assists in 12 games so far is relatively promising.


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