Four Columbus SC players making at least $1 million, Zelarayan top earner in MLSPA salary data

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
Lucas Zelarayan is the Crew’s top earner is at $1,985,000, per MLS data.

The reigning champs of Major League Soccer have one of the most talented rosters in the league, but one that’s not in the top quarter of spending. 

With a total payroll of $13,498,225, according to MLS Players Association’s new salary data, Columbus SC ranks eighth among all 27 MLS teams. Four players on the roster — Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes and Jonathan Mensah — make more than $1 million. 

The 2021 data is the first look at how much the players whom the Crew acquired before the 2020 season are getting annually. MLSPA did not publish salary data in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic altering the season and a new collective bargaining agreement forcing players to take pay cuts. 

MLSPA publishes two sets of numbers: the base salary and guaranteed compensation. The latter, which was used in the payroll calculation and throughout this article, does not provide a completely accurate number for a player’s salary. 

The guaranteed compensation is a calculation that takes a player’s base salary plus bonuses that are averaged over the lifetime of the player’s contract. The MLSPA website provides this example: “A player earning an annual base salary of $500,000, whose contract has an initial term of two years with two one-year options and received a $100,000 signing bonus, his average annual guaranteed compensation would be $525,000.” 

Performance bonuses are not included in the data. The MLSPA data also doesn’t indicate a player’s budget charge for a club in complying with the league’s salary cap, which is $4,900,000 for the 2021 season. 

Unsurprisingly, the Crew’s top earner is Zelarayan at $1,985,000. Comparatively, this is a good figure for the Crew. Zelarayan, who won the 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year award, is widely regarded as one of the best players in the league but ranks 24th among the highest paid players in MLS and is 10th among midfielders. 

Darlington Nagbe, left, signed a new four-year contract before the 2020 season and is actually the club’s highest earner on base salary at $1,710,000.

Nagbe, who signed a new four-year contract before the 2020 season, had a significant pay raise and is actually the club’s highest earner on base salary at $1,710,000. The 2019 salary data had his base and guaranteed salary listed at just over $665,000. 

At this salary level, Nagbe is a designated player and cannot be bought down with targeted allocation money (TAM). 

Mensah also signed a multi-year contract extension in 2020 and saw his pay increase from $894,000 in 2019 to $1,140,667 this season. He’s the fourth highest earner on the team behind Zardes at $1,400,000. Mensah is the second-highest-paid center back in the league.

Wingers Pedro Santos and Kevin Molino are above the league’s maximum senior player salary ($612,500), meaning the remaining part of their salaries have to be paid by TAM or covered by ownership if one is a designated player. 

Other notable players include free agent signee forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has a salary of $475,750. He made $1,380,000 in 2019 before he took a one-year deal with Los Angeles FC in 2020. 

International signees Vito Wormgoor and Alex Matan have salaries over $400,000. As a U22 initiative player, Matan has a budget charge of $200,000.


Player;Base Salary;Base Guaranteed Compensation

Aboubacar Keita;$110,000;$110,000

Aidan Morris;$145,000;$147,000

Alexandru Matan;$375,000;$408,250


Bradley Wright-Phillips;$410,000;$475,750

Darlington Nagbe;$1,710,000;$1,710,000

Derrick Etienne;$125,000;$125,000

Eloy Room;$425,004;$479,698

Eric Dick;$85,444;$85,444

Evan Bush;$376,000;$438,667

Grant Lillard;$125,000;$127,500

Gyasi Zardes;$1,350,000;$1,400,000

Harrison Afful;$335,000;$365,000

Isaiah Parente;$63,547;$67,547

Jonathan Mensah;$1,000,000;$1,140,667

Josh Williams;$300,000;$302,500

Kevin Molino;$667,000;$667,000

Lucas Zelarayan;$1,620,000;$1,985,000

Luis Diaz;$350,004;$383,904

Marlon Hairston;$81,375;$81,375

Matt Lampson;$85,444;$85,444

Miguel Berry;$85,444;$85,444

Milton Valenzuela;$375,000;$406,300

Pedro Santos;$817,560;$864,560

Perry Kitchen;$275,000;$301,667

Vito Wormgoor;$415,000;$492,875

Waylon Francis;$220,000;$230,000