Who are the highest paid MLS players? Carlos Vela, Chicharito top the list

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Every year new rumors begin to percolate about an aging star soccer player in Europe looking to play the beautiful game for a North American club. This scenario has played out often enough to earn Major League Soccerthe moniker of “retirement league” among some soccer fans— a characterization the league rejects, especially as it increasingly exports its own homegrown talent to Europe.

The popular league has hosted a number of high profile European players who have elevated the play at their clubs. David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry and David Beckham are a few European greats who have donned MLS uniforms.

The league’s top three highest paid stars came to the league after long stints with prominent European clubs.

Who are the highest paid MLS players?

Los Angeles Football Club forward Carlos Vela tops the list of highest average annual guaranteed compensation, making $6.3 million. The 33-year-old Mexican national has been with LAFC since the club’s inaugural season in 2018 on a transfer from Real Sociedad of Spain’s La Liga, where he spent eight seasons.

2019 - Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC
2019 - Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC

In 2019, Vela broke the league’s goal scoring record in a historic MVP season that saw LAFC break the league record at the time for most regular season points.

In close second is Los Angeles Galaxy forward and fellow Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who transferred to the Galaxy from La Liga’s Sevilla FC in 2020 on a deal that guarantees Hernandez, who also played for Real Madrid in Spain and the English Premier League’s Manchester United, $6 million a year.

But Vela and Hernandez aren’t just a boost to their clubs or the MLS for their skills. They’re long time stars for the Mexican National team who have helped the budding league tap into the large Mexican-American soccer fan base in California.

Gonzalo “El Pipita” Higuaín, comes in at third on the list. The 34-year-old Argentine striker who signed with Inter Miami CF from Italy’s Juventus FC in 2020 makes about $5.7 million annually at the Beckham co-owned club.

Here is the full list, published by the MLS Players Association in September, ranked by the average annual guaranteed compensation, which includes a player’s added bonuses on top of their base salary and divides it by the number of years in their contract.

  1. Carlos Vela, Los Angeles Football Club; $6.3 million

  2. Javier Hernandez, Los Angeles Galaxy; $6 million

  3. Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami CF; $5.7 million

  4. Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC; $4.6 million

  5. Luiz Araujo, Atlanta United; $3.9 million

  6. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United; $3.8 million

  7. Jozy Altidore, New England Revolution; $3.6 million

  8. Rodolfo Pizarro, Inter Miami CF; $3.3 million

  9. Maxi Moralez, New York City FC; $3.2 million

  10. Victor Wanyama, Montreal; $3.09 million

Seven of the top 10 earners in the league play or can play in the forward position. Goals win games, after all.

The list includes talents that made their names in the MLS, including United States National Team scorer Jozy Altidore and Venezuelan Atlanta United star Josef Martinez, who quickly cemented himself as one of the league’s top strikers when he joined the club in 2017.

Jozy Altidore joins the defending Supporters’ Shield winners after seven seasons with Toronto FC.
Jozy Altidore joins the defending Supporters’ Shield winners after seven seasons with Toronto FC.

The MLS Players Association also publishes a list ranking players by their base annual salary. This list looks slightly different.

  1. Javier Hernandez, Los Angeles Galaxy; $6 million

  2. Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami CF; $5.1 million

  3. Carlos Vela, Los Angeles Football Club; $4.5 million

  4. Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC; $3.8 million

  5. Luiz Araujo, Atlanta United; $3.6 million

  6. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United FC; $3.5 million

  7. Rodolfo Pizarro, Inter Miami CF; $3.05 million

  8. Carles Gil, New England Revolution; $2.75 million

  9. Sebastian Driussi, Austin FC; $2.57 million

  10. Maxi Moralez, New York City FC; $2.5 million

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who are the highest paid MLS players? Vela, Chicharito top the list