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Average MLS salary goes up, with surprising value available leaguewide

Former MLS forward Calen Carr and MLSsoccer.com's Susannah Collins preview this weekend's four Heineken Rivalry Week match-ups.

The salary numbers for Major League Soccer players have been released by the MLS Players Union, and as usual it makes for interesting reading.

Some of the results are obvious. Frank Lampard ($6 million in guaranteed salary), and to a lesser extent Steven Gerrard ($6.132 million) are making too much. Based on Jermaine Jones' impact for the Colorado Rapids, he is making too little ($650,000). And Orlando City's Cyle Larin -- who has four goals, two assists and an annual guaranteed salary of just $177,000 -- is arguably the league's biggest bargain, though he is pushed for that honor by FC Dallas midfielder Fabian Castillo ($170,750) and New York City FC's Tommy McNamara ($85,000).

Yet sifting through the broader numbers, some stark realities stand out, but at first glance they seem to bode well for the league's players. The average MLS salary is $316,777.33, up $24,843.98 (or 8.5 percent) from the last set of numbers, which were published in September 2015. But the median salary is far lower at $117,000, and increased just $5,000 (or 4.5) percent from the end of 2015. The gap between the league's haves and have-nots is increasing.

Based on these numbers, the league's introduction of $800,000 in targeted allocation money (TAM) per team is having the desired effect, at least from the league's perspective. Teams are spending more on players in the DP-light salary range between $457,500 and $1 million, with the number of players occupying that category increasing from 27 last year to 45 this season. The number of players making $1 million and above stayed constant at 23.

This would strongly suggest that the rank and file are largely missing out on this year's cash infusion, and they'll no doubt continue to look at the league's salary cap machinations with a jaundiced eye. Yes, more money is being pumped into the system, but if it only benefits a select few, that will likely add to the considerable gnashing of teeth within the union's membership.

Jermaine Jones vs Sounders
Jermaine Jones is looking like one of the bargain signings in all of MLS and has helped the Rapids to the best record in the league.

MLS will no doubt rely on its talking points of how it operates within a world market for players. That's true, but the reality is there are two markets. One for the players already in the league -- as Jones was made painfully aware when he took a $2.55 million pay cut this year -- and one for those players looking to make a move to or from MLS. Need further proof? Look at the situation surrounding Jorge Villafaña, who tripled his salary when he moved from the Portland Timbers to Liga MX side Santos Laguna. If that doesn't point to how MLS keeps player salaries artificially low, nothing does.

That said, there is little that the union can do about it at present. MLS and the MLSPU are in the second year of a five-year collective bargaining agreement, meaning it will be a long wait for any potential changes to occur.

In terms of how much teams spend, the numbers also revealed some movement, highlighting the different ways that teams can be constructed. Granted, the union's numbers are not exact. It's alleged in some quarters that a good chunk of the compensation of foreign players is tied up in image rights, which is not accounted for in the salary numbers. There are also players like the LA Galaxy's Ashley Cole, whose salary was augmented by the buyout of his contract from previous club Roma.

Steven Gerrard
The LA Galaxy have trimmed their overall annual salary figures, but they are still one of the biggest spenders in MLS.

But the numbers are interesting nonetheless. While there was little movement in the top five teams in terms of salaries paid to players (Toronto FC, NYCFC, LA, Orlando and Seattle), there were some noteworthy shifts elsewhere. The Colorado Rapids had long been regarded as one of the cheapest teams in the league, and last year their payroll ranked just 17th. But the signings of Jones, Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard have catapulted the Rapids to sixth. That increase in investment has coincided with the Rapids having the highest point total in MLS through the first two-plus months of the season.

The biggest fall in terms of salary ranking was the Chicago Fire, who went from 11th to 17th. With regard to dollars, LA shed $3,161,838.71 thanks to the departures of, among others, Omar Gonzalez, Donovan Ricketts and Juninho. But with a total payroll of over $18 million -- and three players making over $3.5 million per year -- the Galaxy haven't exactly instituted austerity measures.

The lower end of the team salary rankings has a familiar name. As was the case last year, FC Dallas ranks last in the league yet currently resides in second place in the Western Conference thanks to the steady flow of academy products contributing first-team minutes.

It proves the old adage that it isn't enough to spend, one must also spend wisely.

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