MLS wants U.S. Soccer stars. It is willing to pay for the privilege. Jozy Altidore has agreed to return from Europe with Toronto FC. Per ESPN, he will receive a five-year $30 million contract. That’s a bit staggering.
Looking at the MLS Players Union figures, this would make him the 4th highest paid player behind Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley (also w/Toronto FC) and Kaka. Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane were earning around $4.5m. For some perspective, the median salary in MLS last year was $80,000. Factoring in inflation, that figure has remained roughly unchanged since 2007, the year David Beckham arrived. Altidore will make more than the total payroll for 13/19 MLS clubs in 2014.
Altidore’s contact roughly equates to what Toronto FC was paying Jermain Defoe, who swaps places with Jozy at Sunderland. Defoe has had six double-digit scoring seasons in the EPL. Altidore scored once in 42 league appearances during his recent EPL stint.
Keeping American stars should be a league priority. Few would doubt the wisdom of Sporting KC signing World Cup players Graham Zusi and Matt Besler to $600k per year deals to fend off European interest. The question is whether mega-deals to bring back American stars such as Dempsey, Bradley, and now Altidore are worth it.
The former two signings and a World Cup boost did little to help stagnant TV ratings. The MLS Cup Final’s 0.6 overnight rating was an increase, but only over the abysmal 2013 rating. An Eastern Conference Semifinals match on NBC Sports last season drew fewer viewers than the BMX dirtbike event shown afterward.
Mainstream sports discussion still hovers around the vague “impact on the league,” rather than how Altidore will perform for Toronto FC and what this means for the Eastern Conference race next year, which would be a sign MLS has truly caught on with the American public.
For U.S. Soccer’s development, top Americans returning from elite leagues to MLS for fat contracts is the opposite of what Jurgen Klinsmann wanted to see.
[Photo via Getty]