In America, soccer is one of the rare sports where the biggest stars in the game are women. It’s also one of the only sports where women are paid more than men — at least by the national team if not by their league franchises. U.S. Soccer paid $34.1 million in salary and bonuses to the women’s national team between 2010 and 2018, yet only $26.4 million to the men, according to the AP.
It’s not hard to understand why.
In 2019, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team emerged from Lyon, France, with its second consecutive World Cup victory and fourth in total since they won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991. There could no longer be an argument. The Americans were the greatest women’s soccer team of all time.
More recently in the Tokyo Olympics, the women’s squad lost a heartbreaker in the semifinals when they fell 1-0 to Canada. Their hopes for Olympic gold shattered, but they did come away with a bronze. The women pursuing Olympic glory, and their predecessors who blazed the trail, have become wealthy athletes — and their counterparts in men’s soccer aren’t doing so bad, either. Even if they’re not as famous, they tend to command much higher salaries when they’re not playing for the national team.
Along with 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe, 39-year-old Carli Lloyd is part of the nucleus of the national team’s old guard. And although she has now announced her retirement, there was no slowing the famous workhorse down while she played. Just minutes after the U.S. team’s devastating loss to Canada, Lloyd was seen doing sprint drills in the background during a media interview with Rapinoe.
Lloyd, a legendary veteran of the NJ/NY Gotham FC, is a four-time Olympian with gold medal-winning goals in multiple games. In March, Casino.org reported Lloyd to be the highest-paid female soccer player in the world with an annual salary of $518,000.
Megan Rapinoe is the reigning rock star of the American soccer world — like Mia Hamm in the 1990s, Rapinoe is the one player who people in the U.S. know even if they don’t know anything else about soccer.
She was a hero of the World Cup in 2019, scoring her 50th international goal during the finals. A high-profile activist and vocal social justice advocate, Rapinoe is consummately marketable. She was one of a handful of athletes Visa agreed to continue sponsoring when it became the first big brand to extend its contract for the 2020 Olympics after the games were delayed to 2021, according to Soccerex. In March, Casino.org reported Rapinoe’s salary to be $447,000, making her the world’s No. 4 highest-paid woman in soccer.
All credible articles about the greatest American men’s soccer players must include Landon Donovan at or near the top. A star in Europe and at home with the L.A. Galaxy, Donovan has a tally of records that is too long to recite, including most goals and most assists by a U.S. Men’s National Team member, and his five goals in World Cup matches are the most by any American player.
He dominated on the field both in the U.S. and internationally throughout the 21st century, and after his final retirement, he found off-field success as an analyst, a broadcaster and a franchise leader and owner in several organizations.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo held down the net for the U.S. national team from 2000-2016, earning two Olympic golds in three appearances at the games, a World Cup championship and every major U.S. goaltending record along the way. Aside from establishing herself as one of the greatest goalies of all time, Solo and her crew represented the bridge between the original World Cup national squad of 1990s fame and the women who are representing the U.S. in the Olympics today.
In 2011, Alex Morgan was the youngest player on the World Cup roster when she scored two clutch goals, one in the semis and one in the finals. The decade that followed would enshrine Morgan as one of history’s greatest scorers. She scored her 100th goal in 2019 and recently won the bronze in Tokyo. One of the most marketable woman athletes in the world across all sports, she signed a deal to become the first woman on the cover of the EA FIFA video game series in 2015, according to Adweek. Casino.org estimates the Orlando Pride star’s salary to be $450,000.
National Soccer Hall of Famer Cobi Jones spent 12 years with the L.A. Galaxy. The U.S. National Team’s cap king, Jones is a three-time World Cup player and a former Olympian. He served as an assistant coach for the Galaxy after he retired in 2010 and found success as an analyst and a broadcaster. He was the most famous among a core group of players who returned to the U.S. from playing overseas to join Major League Soccer when it made its debut.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion, Abby Wambach is also a bestselling author, advocate and activist. Although her record was surpassed by Canadian star Christine Sinclair in 2020, Wambach’s 184 goals were the most scored by any man or woman in the history of international soccer when she retired in 2015.
One night in 2013, she tied the record of 158 goals set by the great Mia Hamm a generation before. Then she broke the record with another goal, then broke her own record with another goal during the same game with a performance for the ages.
Before Solo and Wambach, before Rapinoe, Morgan and Lloyd, there was Mia Hamm, the superstar who embodied the glory of U.S. women’s soccer more than any other person and set the mold for the modern rock star celebrities of women’s soccer. After joining the women’s national team at the age of 15, Hamm was part of the U.S. team in the very first World Cup in 1991 and would go on to compete in three more. A three-time Olympian, Hamm won two gold medals and a silver.
Few men who have ever played for the U.S. national team can claim to have more experience than Michael Bradley, who was drafted into MLS in 2004. By 2019, he was earning $6.5 million a year on a contract with Toronto FC, which had paid him $39 million over six years — but his deal expired that year, according to CBC Sports. He then signed a new deal to keep him in Toronto, albeit for a pay cut that slashed his salary to $1.53 million a year.
Those who don’t rank Landon Donovan as the greatest American soccer player of all time usually give the honor to Clint Dempsey. The New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders star’s 57 national team goals are tied for the record with the 57 put up by none other than Landon Donovan — but Dempsey did it in 16 fewer contests. In 2012, the English club Tottenham signed Dempsey for about $9.5 million — $22.2 million over three years — making him the highest-paid American soccer player in history at the time.
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All net worth information comes from Celebrity Net Worth and is accurate as of Aug. 24, 2021.
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.