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On the MLS Salary Cap and Success

Gaining a competitive advantage in a salary capped league like MLS can be difficult. Teams can’t follow the Chelsea/Man City approach and buy loads of expensive players. Even with the addition of extra Designated Player spots, teams still find it difficult to balance a few expensive signings with quality squad members. Previous studies have looked at the correlation between MLS payrolls and points and found no correlation. This isn’t surprising given that most teams’ payroll falls within a small range near the limit.

In order to get a sense for how teams were spending their money and how effective it is, I looked at the salaries of the starting players. For Designated Players, I used their cap hit instead of their full salary. Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • The average salary of starters ranged from $104,089 for Chivas USA to $152,893 for Colorado Rapids. That’s a difference of 46%.
  • Defenders are the lowest paid position and forwards the highest paid. Goalkeepers were paid more than midfielders, but that wouldn’t be the case if you exclude Kasey Keller. Keller is paid more than double the average starting keeper.
  • There is a correlation between points and salary. The strength of the correlation greatly improves if you exclude Philadelphia Union because they are an expansion club. Not surprisingly, the team that underpeformed the most was D.C. United. Somewhat surprisingly, L.A. Galaxy overperformed the most.
  • There is no correlation between Goals For and the salary of a team’s forwards. However, there is a correlation with the salary of all positions.
  • Likewise, there is no correlation between Goals Against and the salary of a team’s keeper and defense but there is with all positions.

Take a look at the data below and let me know what you think.


  1. Jason says:

    I would really like to see the numbers with the DP total salary included…

    I think the fact that no DP has ever won an MLS cup tells the story well. Its like playing Roulette, if you put your money on one number, your odds go down, if you put your money on many numbers, your odds go up… Seems logical….

  2. Dr. Alex says:

    I think it’s really interesting to see such the wide spread of goalies from 60K to 300K, considering that each team employs so few for that position.

  3. [...] are going to hit the cap and hit it hard. In fact, Generation Adidas salaries are higher than the average salary of a starter. That’s pretty startling if you consider the high salaries of league veterans and designated [...]