Top 10 Biggest MLS Contracts of All Time: 2023 Edition

Top 10 Biggest MLS Contracts of All Time 2023 Edition

The late 2000s through 2010s saw an influx of big names, including Zlatan Ibrahimović and Bastian Schweinsteiger, joining the MLS.

Tantalizing deals that overlooked their age but reflected their experience, talent, and profile attracted these players.

Thus, we cannot write off the impact of breaking the bank to attract some of the world’s best players.

While clubs may pay above the usual to invest in record signings, the arrival of these players has heightened soccer’s popularity in a country where the sport was not a primary choice, and even attracted comparison with top European leagues.

This fact is evidenced by Lionel Messi’s first match for Inter Miami, reportedly the most-watched soccer game in United States television history.1

It is time to know how much these players earn for their contribution to the league as we consider the biggest MLS contracts of all time.

Biggest MLS Contracts of All Time

10. Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $6.1 million
  • Club: Chicago Fire
  • Position: Midfielder

Schweinsteiger earned respect across Europe as one of the world’s best midfielders, capable of dictating play from either flank across the midfield and through the center.

Awesome deadball from set pieces, shot accuracy from distance, and passing range were qualities the German uniquely possessed.

Schweinsteiger secured an MLS move towards the end of his career, but his quality was unquestionable.

He fueled the Chicago Fire to a top-table finish despite joining the club mid-season.

His contribution to their success would see him feature in the MLS All-Star Fan XI and MLS All-Star, appearing in the latter in 2019.

The German’s skills and profile would come at a king’s ransom, initially signing a deal worth $5.4 million in 2017 before earning a pay raise that shot him above $6 million the following year. 2

Schweinsteiger hung his boots in 2019, but his earnings a year before features among the most-lucrative contracts the league has ever witnessed.

9. Carlos Vela

Carlos Vela
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $6.3 million
  • Club: Los Angeles FC
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder/Winger

Vela joined Los Angeles FC from Spanish La Liga’s Real Sociedad in January 2018, ahead of the 2018 season.

For all it is worth, the Mexican’s spell at Dignity Health Sports Park has fetched success.

Nevertheless, it has priced its weight as gold. La Galaxy infamously reached the top spot regarding team payroll based on guaranteed base compensation, spending $20.32 million in 2021.

This year, Vela became MLS’s highest-paid player with a guaranteed compensation of $6.3 million, a deal that will eventually feature among the biggest league contracts of all time.3

Vela is the highest-scoring Mexican in MLS history with one MLS Golden Boot and MVP Award.

He was also named MLS Best Player ESPY in 2022 and appeared in the All-Star and Best XI that year.

8. Federico Bernardeschi

Federico Bernardeschi
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $6.3 million
  • Club: Toronto FC
  • Position: Attacking midfielder/Winger

Toronto FC were desperate to strengthen their team after losing Sebastian Giovinco to Saudi’s Al Hilal in 2019.

The club’s quest for a technically gifted player with pace, agility, dribbling ability, and an eye for goal drove them to the shores of Italy to acquire Italy international Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi signed for Toronto FC in July 2022 and has since scored thirteen goals in 35 league appearances from the middle of the park.

His signature will cost the Canadian side a fortune until 2026 (when his contract will expire).

According to an article in Daily Mail, the 29-year-old midfielder earns $6.3 million annually for his services.

Bernardeschi has yet to reproduce Giovinco’s output and has missed out on creating an immediate impact on the club.

Worse still, he appears to be at loggerheads with coach Bob Bradley, evidenced by his public criticism of the gaffer’s tactics after a defeat to Austin FC in May.

7. Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $6.5 million
  • Club: Toronto FC
  • Position: Midfielder

Michael Bradley relinquished his designated player status and took a pay cut in 2019, a sacrifice that kept him at the Canadian club beyond his initial six-year deal in 2014.

Nevertheless, the former USMNT captain’s earnings amassed $39 million across all six years.4

Bradley made the move from AS Roma for $10 million in a package that included a partnership comprising two friendlies at BMO Field over six years and a player development program for Toronto FC players at AS Roma’s training facility.

Toronto FC never seemed to regret the expensive deal as ‘Il Generale’ led the club to their first-ever MLS Cup in 2017 to complete an inaugural domestic treble.

Bradley also captained the Canadian side to the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League and Campeones Cup finals, three Eastern Conference Playoffs, one Supporters’ Shield, and four Canadian Championship titles.

6. Ricardo Kaká

Ricardo Kaká
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $7.1 million
  • Club: Orlando City
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder

Soccer legend Ricardo Kaká was revered for technical prowess, creativity, and mesmeric gait.

He completed football in 2007, after winning the FIFA World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and all possible club trophies with AC Milan, which earned him the Ballon d’Or in 2007.

Doubtlessly, a player of his caliber would demand huge wages to consider playing in the United States.

Eventually, Orlando City brought the Brazilian to the MLS even before they entered the league in 2015.

At the time, Kaká became the highest-paid player in MLS history, with an annual base salary of $6.6 million and a guaranteed compensation of $7.2 million annually.

He became the first to top $7 million in MLS earnings with this deal.5

5. Sebastian Giovinco

Sebastian Giovinco
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $7.1 million
  • Club: Toronto FC
  • Position: Forward

The ‘small man’ was noted for his goal-scoring and chance-creation abilities made possible by his dribbling skills, vision, and excellent link-up play.

These qualities helped Giovinco succeed in Juventus and lured Canadian side Toronto FC to ask for his services in 2015.

Giovinco signed a five-year deal with Toronto FC, making him MLS’s highest-paid player as he bagged more than $7 million annually.6

Investing that much in the Italian ultimately paid off. During his stay, the Canadian side won the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and three consecutive Canadian Championship titles.

He also won several individual league awards, including the Golden Boot, MVP Award, and Newcomer of the Year Award, before leaving for Saudi League in 2019.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimović

Zlatan Ibrahimović
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $7.2 million
  • Club: LA Galaxy
  • Position: Striker

Zlatan Ibrahimović had established himself in Europe as one of the greatest strikers of all time before his move to the MLS.

He had won multiple trophies playing for Ajax, Juventus, Barca, AC Milan, PSG, and Manchester United before securing a move to the United States.

The club earned his signature on a two-season deal worth $7.2 million per season. 7

While Zlatan’s spell with LA Galaxy resulted in no trophies, he won several individual league and club honors.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $8.15 million
  • Club: Chicago Fire
  • Position: Winger

The stocky Swiss has earned popularity for his skillset, being an unpredictable forward who is good with both feet and clinical in front of the goal.

Chicago Fire signed the midfielder from French Ligue 1’s Olympique Lyonnais in a transfer package worth $7.5 million, making him the club’s most expensive designated player ever.

More so, he earns $8.15 million a year plus bonuses, once holding the status of the league’s highest-paid player.8

2. Lorenzo Insigne

Lorenzo Insigne
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $15 million
  • Club: Toronto FC
  • Position: Winger

Xherdan Shaqiri’s reign as MLS’s highest-paid player was cut short as SSC Napoli’s legend Lorenzo Insigne flew into Canada.

The Italian signed a four-year pre-contract to join Toronto FC as a designated player on a free transfer.

The deal is reportedly worth $15 million per year, a portrayal of Insigne’s profile and expertise.9

1. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi
Source: Wikimedia
  • Contract Value per Season: $50-60 million
  • Club: Inter Miami
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder/Winger

An honor befitting a star of his GOAT status, Lionel Messi tops the biggest MLS contracts of all time list.

Lionel Messi claimed that money did not drive the decision to join Inter Miami, for he would have favored the Saudi move.

Nonetheless, he would sign for the MLS club as the league’s highest-paid player earning between $50 million and $60 million per year for two and a half years.10

The deal, however, is unique in structure, presenting other benefits apart from cash alone.

According to ESPN, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner would have revenue-sharing agreements with league partners and an option for the part-ownership of Inter Miami.11

Inter Miami hopes to benefit significantly despite the complexity and cost of Lionel Messi’s deal.

The Argentine who is rated the best in the MLS has moved the club one place up from the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.

More so, he helped the team win their first-ever trophy, scoring a goal and a penalty kick against Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup final.

Wrap Up

Major League Soccer (MLS) remains one of the fastest-growing soccer leagues in the world, having implemented various structural policies that have yielded significant advancements.

Respect and chaos control between fans and players, spending limits, and growth opportunities for new clubs have significantly contributed to MLS expansion.

Still, financial contributions to the league’s development are noteworthy as lucrative deals tempt players.

While some homegrown stars have commanded fat deals, European imports fill MLS’s top-10 most lucrative contracts.

References & Notes

Facts Sources:
  1. Lionel Messi effect on Inter Miami is already huge. Here are the numbers to prove it. Miami Herald
  2. Schweinsteiger leads way for Chicago Fire’s nearly $14-million payroll. Chicago Tribune
  3. LAFC’s Vela, Galaxy’s Chicharito, Miami’s Higuain top MLS salaries; Atlanta’s Luiz Araujo highest-paid newcomer. ESPN
  4. Report: TFC re-signing captain Bradley. TSN
  5. Kaka 1st to top $7 million in MLS earnings. USA Today
  6. Italy attacker Sebastian Giovinco to join Toronto FC in July. ESPN
  7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic sets MLS salary record at $7.2 million. USA Today
  8. Chicago Fire’s Xherdan Shaqiri edges LA Galaxy’s Javier Hernandez as MLS’ highest paid. ESPN
  9. Toronto FC’s Lorenzo Insigne feels no pressure as MLS’ top earner. ESPN
  10. Lionel Messi makes it official and signs with Inter Miami. NPR
  11. What Messi’s MLS, Apple, Adidas deal means for everyone else. ESPN

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