The 10 highest paid players in the MLS: Lionel Messi above former Man Utd and Liverpool stars

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Football is growing in popularity in America and clubs are paying a lot of money to attract star players to Major League Soccer.
While teams in the MLS are bound by salary caps, they are each allowed three Designated Players who can be paid over the salary cap.
Using data from the MLS Players Association (MLPSA), we’ve taken a look at the 10 highest-paid football players in America.
Note: The total figures include a player’s base salary and all signing and guaranteed bonuses annualized over the term of the player’s contract.
10. Josef Martinez – $4.39m
One of two Inter Miami CF players on this list, Martinez joined the David Beckham-owned franchise on a free transfer in January 2023 after leaving fellow MLS side Atlanta United.
The Venezuela international now receives a base salary of $4million-per-year and an additional $391,667-per-year from guaranteed bonuses.
He scored 10 goals in 32 appearances in all competitions and played a key role in the team’s 2023 Leagues Cup title-winning run.
But the 30-year-old striker looks set to leave Miami after just one solitary season as Tata Martino’s side are reportedly looking to sign Luis Suarez.
9. Christian Benteke – $4.43m
A Premier League stalwart, Benteke scored 86 goals in the competition during spells with Aston Villa, Liverpool and Crystal Palace.
After leaving Palace at the end of the 2021/22 season, the striker joined DC United as a Designated Player on a two-and-a-half-year contract.
But he had to take a substantial pay cut, going from $7.57million-per-year in England to $4.43million-per-year in America.
The 32-year-old is the focal point of DC United’s attack and has netted 14 MLS goals in 2023, more than any other player on this list.
8. Douglas Costa – $4.5m
Costa spent over a decade in Europe, winning league titles with Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
The former Brazil international then had a disastrous loan spell at boyhood club Gremio before joining LA Galaxy in February 2022.
While Costa has provided a few flashes of his quality, he has largely flattered to deceive at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
The 31-year-old winger currently earns a total of $4.5million-per-year, but his contract in Los Angeles is due to expire at the end of 2023.
7. Hector Herrera – $5.24m
After joining Houston Dynamo in the summer of 2022, Herrera was given the captain’s armband an annual salary of $5.24million, but he initially struggled to adapt to MLS.
“I was just telling my agent today that after the first six months, I wanted to just f— off, if you’ll excuse my use of that word,” Herrera recently told reporters.
“But that was the reality. Even my partner asked ‘What are we doing here?’ It was very hard, those first six months. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea it would be this hard.”
But the Mexico international rediscovered his best form in 2023, registering 19 assists in all competitions and helping his side beat Inter Miami in the U.S. Open Cup final.
6. Sebastian Driussi – $6.02m
Driussi exercised a buyout clause in his Zenit St. Petersburg contract in 2021 and joined Austin FC midway through their inaugural season.
The 27-year-old registered 22 goals and five assists in MLS in 2022 and finished as runner-up to Nashville SC’s Hany Muktar in the MVP race.
He reportedly rejected a move to Leeds United in January 2023 and committed his future to Austin FC, signing a new three-year contract.
The club captain now earns a base salary of $3.8million-per-year and an additional $2.22million-per-year from guaranteed bonuses.
Sebastián Driussi that was LOVELY sir. 😳 The touch. The finish over former Dortmund man Roman Burki. Wow. 👏 🎥: @AustinFC pic.twitter.com/w0Qf3bQfKU — CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 26, 2023
5. Federico Bernardeschi – $6.29m
Toronto FC have one of the biggest wage bills in MLS and they handed Bernardeschi a $6.29million-per-year contract in the summer of 2022.
The winger is yet to live up to expectations on the pitch and has also been admonished for off-field issues, including vaping on the team plane and at the training facility.
He could return to Serie A in January 2024 as he’s recently been linked with Bologna, Atalanta, Napoli and former club Juventus.
“Italy is my home and naturally I miss it,” the 29-year-old told Sky Sport Italia. “All I can say is that right now I am a Toronto player, but if some offers were to arrive, we would be ready to evaluate them along with the club.”
4. Javier Hernandez – $7.44m
After Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to AC Milan in December 2019, LA Galaxy bought Hernandez from Sevilla in a $9.4million deal.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker signed an initial three-year contract and has an annual salary of $7.44million.
He was also handed the captain’s armband upon his arrival and has since scored 39 goals in 82 appearances in all competitions for the club.
But the 35-year-old might have played his last game for the Galaxy as his contract expires at the end of the year, and he is currently on the treatment table after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.
3. Xherdan Shaqiri – $8.15m
Having played in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England and France, Shaqiri left Europe in February 2022 and joined Chicago Fire in a $7.5million deal.
Alongside the club-record transfer fee, they also shelled out a significant pay packet as they are giving him $8.15million-per-year.
The former Liverpool winger has registered seven goals and six assists in each of his first two seasons in America. But he’s not had the desired impact as Chicago Fire failed to reach the MLS play-offs in both 2022 and 2023.
2. Lorenzo Insigne – $15.4m
Insigne joined Toronto FC from Napoli in the summer of 2022 and now receives $15.4million-per-year, although more than half of that money is from guaranteed bonuses in his contract.
The 32-year-old enjoyed a promising debut half-season, but he’s struggled with injuries in 2023 and has also been heavily criticised for his recent performances.
“This is the first time that something like this has ever happened to me, that I’m receiving all these insults that I believe are unjustified — that I’m here just for the money when I’m not,” he said.
“This has been very difficult for me mentally because I’m coming off an injury from (a game against) [Inter] Miami. And I can’t understand why something like this would happen. I’m mentally exhausted.”
According to reports in Italy, he is willing to take a pay cut in order to secure a move to Lazio in the January transfer window.
1. Lionel Messi – $20.44m
After leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2021/22 season, Messi snubbed a move to Saudi Arabia and decided to join Inter Miami CF.
He unsurprisingly became the highest-paid player in the history of the MLS, earning a base salary of $12million-per-year and another $8.44million-per-year in guaranteed bonuses.
But that figure doesn’t take into account the money the 35-year-old makes through his commercial deals with the likes of Adidas and Apple.
He’s still justified his huge pay packet by registering 11 goals in his first 14 appearances, including a strike against Nashville in the 2023 Leagues Cup final.
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