Due to its increased financial viability over the years, MLS has witnessed large immigration of valuable football players from mainly Europe and South America in recent times. Some may call it a retirement home, but there is no denying the fact that the league has grown tremendously in stature since its inception.
Major League Soccer (MLS) is the professional soccer league in the United States of America. Currently consisting of a total of twenty-three teams from the US and Canada, it is expected to be further expanded in 2023 by seven additional teams. To aid the country’s eventually successful 1994 World Cup bid and to capitalize on the expected surge in football popularity in the country in the wake of its hosting of the world’s most-celebrated sports tournament, the league was founded a year after and launched with only ten teams in its debut season.
What followed was a period of difficulties in its first seasons, with the league losing money in the first years, resulting in two teams folding after eight years. Contrary to the NBA, MLS failed to establish itself in the world market during its formative years but that wasn’t the case in the subsequent era that followed.
The league has since recovered from the initial setback due to the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums around the league, implementation of the Designated Player Rule allowing teams to sign star players such as David Beckham, and national TV contracts. In terms of revenue generation, MLS has since become the 8th most valuable league in the world with so many valuable players and teams alike.
Teams in the Major League Soccer
- Eastern Conference: Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution (based near Boston), New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC.
- Western Conference: Colorado Rapids (based near Denver in Commerce City, Colorado), FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota United FC, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
What determines the values of players?
Football is a big business. And like any big business, accounting and valuation issues are important. But apart from the money that changes hands, why is the valuation of football players important? The answer is not far-fetched as players are in most cases, football clubs’ most valuable assets.
There are many factors that contribute to how high a player is valued. The more important a player is to the team, the higher they are valued. It is expected that the more important players are usually paid the most so wages also come into play here.
Naturally, there is also a positional bias as forward players are valued much more than defenders because forwards contributions can be seen in goals& assists and this adds a premium to players in this position. The league that the player is playing in does impact value as players plying their trade outside any of Europe’s top five leagues are valued much less as we will be seeing in this article.
A younger player has more career time than an older player therefore will have a higher valuation. Looking at it from a depreciation point of view, chances are younger players’ value will increase as they develop whereas older players will lose value. However if the player is really young and very under-developed, the price could be much cheaper as they require work.
Nowadays, the media plays an integral role in society so clubs want players who portray the club in an exemplary manner. Since every action will most likely be scrutinized by the public, teams do not want to be involved in a media storm. If a player has been linked to bad off-field problems, this could lead a dip in valuation.
Players are also valued based on their financial importance to their teams. How big is their brand? How many of their jerseys get sold annually? How many endorsement deals or how much image rights does he have? Off-the-field activities are almost as pertinent as the ones on it.
Form is also a key determinant of how much a player is worth at every instant. And most importantly; talent, which is the main aspect of a player’s valuation.
The ten most valuable players in the MLS
With all the factors above taken into consideration here are the rankings for the top ten most valuable players from the MLS:
1. Diego Rossi (Los Angeles FC)
Top of the pile and valued at €18m is this season’s leading scorer so far. Diego Rossi has scored eight goals while also providing two assists in his eight games this season. Already in 2020, he’s put together multiple impressive performances most notably a four-goal haul against city rivals Los Angeles Galaxy and left the MLS is Back Tournament with a total of seven goals.
Since his debut in 2018, the Uruguayan has scored 37 goals in that time. A major reason why he is valued so high among his peers is his young age which indicates that he will only get better from here on in. Rossi is still only 22 years of age but he is undoubtedly on his way to the top of American football.
2. Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC)
Only valued at €15m and with Vela’s displays in the MLS since joining from Spanish side Real Sociedad in 2018, one could argue that the only reason why he is not higher on the list is his current age which stands at 31 years old. Since his arrival, only Josef Martinez has found the back of the net more times than the Mexican who has gone to break numerous records in that time. In 2019, Vela broke Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015 MLS single-season record of most direct goal involvements, with his 39th of the season, one more than Giovinco’s 38.
He later ended that season with 34 goals and 15 assists, for a combined record of 49 points, which earned him the MLS Golden Boot award as the league’s top-scorer. His duels with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the recent El Trafico derbies have been a joy to watch. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing Vela, who is the current holder of the Landon Donovan MVP Award, in action for a while after he sustained an injury in the latest edition of an always-exciting LA derby.
3. Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)
Like Vela also, we won’t be witnessing Josef Martinez in action for a long time after he had a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his first game of the year. He finished behind only the irrepressible duo of Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the race for last year’s Golden Boot. His 82 MLS goals have come in just 93 games since he first arrived the country on loan from Italian side Torino.
Martínez became the most decorated single-season player in MLS history in 2018 by winning the League MVP, All-Star Game MVP, Golden Boot and MLS Cup Final MVP. Valued at €14m and still only 27 years of age, it should not be long before interests from abroad start rolling in for the man from Venezuela who should go on to impress wherever he ends when that time comes.
4. Gonzalo Martinez (Atlanta United)
Atlanta United signed Gonzalo Martínez as a Designated Player on Jan. 24, 2019 from Club Atlético River Plate of the Argentine Superliga. The 27-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder was voted the 2018 South American Player of the Year and the 2018 Argentine Footballer of the Year after helping River Plate win the 2018 Copa Libertadores.
In his debut year at Atalanta, he made 32 league appearances, recording five goals and nine assists in the process and ended the campaign strongly by scoring or giving an assist in four of his last five regular-season outings while assisting a goal in Atlanta’s Eastern Conference Semifinals and Final matches. He has followed that up with two goals and assists apiece in six games this current season so it’s no surprise that his value has not dropped from its last figure of €12m.
5. Cristian Pavon (LA Galaxy)
Pavón signed on loan from Boca Juniors in his native country with MLS side LA Galaxy for the remainder of the 2019 season, with the option of a permanent deal. Largely due to his four goals and five assists in the thirteen games that followed, LA Galaxy exercised the option to extend his loan for the 2020 season.
All before that, he had made the Albiceleste 2018 World Cup squad in Russia where he featured in all the games at just age 22. Two years on and he is one of the most valuable players in the MLS as well as one of his side’s most consistent performers. Little wonder why his value has increased to the €11m figure that it currently stands at.
6. Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United)
Barco joined Atlanta for $15m which was the largest transfer fee in MLS history at the time. The 21-year-old who was one of the most highly-touted prospects in South America, had four goals and three assists, in his first season with Atlanta before heading to the FIFA U-20 World Cup where he added another two goals and two assists to his season’s tally.
Still only 20, Barco is a developing footballer. His talent is obvious, but he is also in his marriage phase. His main issue thus far has been his lack of availability. He played only 15 regular-season games last year due to injury problems and international duties. He is currently out with a minor problem but it shouldn’t be long before we see the mesmerizing Argentine who has a value of €10.5m in action again.
7. Rodolfo Pizzaro (Inter Miami)
Despite only joining the league this year, the 26-year-old Mexican has already become of the MLS most valuable players. Pizarro signed a Designated Player contract with Inter Miami in February and scored its first league goal after leaving his former team in controversial circumstances.
Just before his move to Inter Miami, a protracted dispute occurred between the clubs about the activation of his release clause, linking-up with head coach Diego Alonso, his coach at both Pachuca and Monterrey. Thankfully, the issue was resolved days later.
He also showed his tendency to get into trouble when he used a slur to call out Club América during Chivas’ CONCACAF Champions League celebrations and he will need to put an end to his disciplinary deficiencies if his value is to keep rising from the €10m it currently stands at.
8. Brian Rodriguez (Los Angeles FC)
Rodríguez moved to the Major League Soccer as a young designated player for a club-record fee of $11.5 million. The transfer amount also made him the third-highest purchase in MLS history at that time behind Atlanta United’s Argentine duo of Gonzalo Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. He debuted off the bench in a 3-3 El Trafico derby draw.
Like Barco, Rodriguez is still in his early twenties but already possesses a calm head on his shoulders. After failing to score in his first year in the league, he has since scored twice in the subsequent eight games that followed while also providing three assists along the way. On the evidence of what we have seen so far, his value is expected to keep rising from the €9.5m it is at the moment.
9. Alan Pulido (Sporting Kansas)
Pulido is also a new addition to the league having joined earlier this year for a reported €9.2 million on a four-year contract, making his transfer the most expensive in the history of the club. The 29-year-old Mexican forward has shown that his creativity is as adept as his goalscoring with his four goals and four assists in ten games since his move from CD Guadalajara.
With Carlos Vela as well as Josef Martnez currently on the sidelines, he possesses a very great chance of finishing among the league’s leading scorers this season which could bring a further increase to his current value of €9m.
10. Jurgen Locadia (FC Cincinnati)
Locadia was another product of the Designated Player Scheme as he joined Major League Soccer side FC Cincinnati in February on a five-month loan from Brighton & Hove Albion with an option to buy. Cincinnati opted to extend his loan deal instead and what a shrewd move that has turned out to be.
He has revealed his desire to be permanently signed by the club as he feels he has found a place that best suits him after failing to live up to the promise which prompted his record move to Brighton in the first place. Locadia rounds up the list of the MLS most valuable players with a figure of €8m.
Overall, the ten players on this list are worth a combined €117m which may not necessarily measure up to that of other leagues but does reflect the much-improved financial condition of the MLS.