Donovan’s goal: Leagues Cup, Concacaf Champions Cup, and Union prize money

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

In either the tenth or eleventh minute of stoppage time last Friday night, Kai Wagner delivered an in-stride cross, Chris Donovan was VAR-even with his marker as Wagner struck it, and the alumnus of Conestoga High School, Drexel University, and Philadelphia Union II sent his team into the Leagues Cup semifinal.

Subaru Park exploded in celebration as did Donovan’s teammates.

In one of his media availabilities during the knockout round, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin mentioned prize money.

Ever since he began leading the Union Curtin’s catch phrase about tournaments has been “Survive and advance.” The subtext could easily be, “Survive, advance, and get paid.”

Both amateur and professional soccer clubs make at least a little money when they advance in tournaments. The money may be labelled differently. Amateur clubs get travel subsidies, for example. Whatever the label, prize money is earned, and reportedly Major League Soccer’s Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that players get part of it.

Where does Leagues Cup fit?

All six of the world’s soccer confederations run club tournaments. All six provide prize money.

Oceania’s top prize for its tournament winner is only $75,000. In contrast, in 2022 UEFA’s Champions League Winner Real Madrid winner realized $95.8 million total when the consequent UEFA Super Cup participation and win is included. The richest total prize pools are UEFA’s Champions League ($2.22 billion, not a typo) and CONMEBOL’s Copa Libertadores ($207 million).

Concacaf has a confederation-wide club tournament and pays out prize money. Reportedly it will be upwards of $5 million. But the Leagues Cup is not that tournament.

Leagues Cup is one of three preliminary qualifiers to it. The confederation-wide tournament itself will now once again be called the Concacaf Champions Cup.

Leagues Cup is one-third of Concacaf’s unfolding attempt to address severe competitive imbalance among the clubs of its region. All six of the world’s soccer confederations display competitive imbalance, but Concacaf’s is extreme.

To illustrate concretely, if Club America, Monterrey, or Tigres is the biggest club side in Concacaf, are there any positive results  — competitively or financially — from its playing, for example, St. Lucia’s professional club B1 FC? Concacaf’s challenge is to arrange club competitions to stimulate and nurture growth rather than destroy and demoralize it.

Concacaf hopes its three new, separate club tournaments will provide the stimulus and hope of plausible competition while maintaining all little Davids’ dreams to work towards one day slaying a giant Goliath.

National geography constricts total population and, usually, therefore talent levels, particularly on islands. Hence Concacaf’s three preliminary tournaments are:

  • The Caribbean Cup, which will qualify three teams to the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup.
  • The Central American Cup, which qualifies six teams thence.
  • The Leagues Cup, three.

The 2023 Caribbean Cup (to be played from August 22 through December 7) will match ten professional club sides against each other. For this go-round three are from the Dominican Republic. Three are from Jamaica. Two are from Trinidad and Tobago. And one each comes from Martinique and Suriname. Not all clubs and leagues in the Caribbean meet Concacaf’s definitions of professional.

The 2023 Central American Cup (August 1 – December 7)  matches 20 clubs against each other. Four each are from Costa Rica and Honduras. Three each are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama. Two are from Nicaragua, and one is from Belize.

The 2023 Leagues Cup (July 21 – August 19) matches 47 clubs, 18 from Mexico’s first division and 29 from the three Canadian and 26 U. S. teams of Major League Soccer.

The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup will pit 27 teams against each other in a five-round knockout process. Twenty-two teams will populate its first round. Of those 22 only six were known prior to the Leagues Cup’s semifinal results. (This link provides further clarification of Champions Cup.)

Philadelphia’s Leagues Cup money

Data is both sparse and unofficial.

The tournament’s total prize money pool “approaches $40 million” according to Alex Silverman of Sports Business Journal. He says the winner will get close to $2 million, as compared to $300,000 for the winner of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U S Open Cup.

Jeremiah Oshan of website Sounder at Heart focuses on players’ shares and states that the current CBA mandates the players get $100,000 for each game they play in the tournament and an additional $50,000 for a win. He, and we, assume that the number is a bonus pool to be divided among a club’s individual players. We assume division would occur in a manner each team determines. Oshan calculates that at a minimum the winner of the tournament would share a bonus pool of $1,050,000. We think his calculation adds $700, 000 for seven games played to $350,000 for seven wins achieved.

Philadelphia to date is guaranteed to have played seven games when everything is over. That puts $700,000 in its players’ pool. Further, it has three wins in regulation and two wins via penalty kick shootout.

It’s unlikely that the current CBA differentiates the win types, since MLS did not have PK shootouts when the CBA was last amended and still doesn’t. Five wins adds $250,000. We therefore assume a minimum Philadelphia players’ pool total of $950,000 at this time.

Donovan’s game winner added $250,000 to the pool, $100, 000 for the semifinal game, $100,000 for either the third place one or the final, and $50,000 for the win.

If – repeat, if – the pool is divided into equal shares, another question is whether  technical staff and clubhouse personnel get them. A tension of generosity can arise between maximizing share size (fewer recipients) and acknowledging valuable daily help and support (more recipients). Partial shares have been used by others elsewhere to address the mechanics of generosity.

We have only a limited basis for speculation about the Union’s possible division of the players’ prize money. The Union’s official clubs master list roster issued just before Leagues Cup began included 30 players and 11 technical staff.

Forty-one people equally sharing $950,000 yields $23,170 per share. That may not be significant  to someone on a million-dollar salary. But to someone on the reserve roster, as Donovan himself is, the reserve roster minimum is $67,360 plus bonuses for goals, appearances, playing time, and so forth. Philadelphia’s Leagues Cup earnings might increase reserve roster players own gross earnings by roughly one third.


  1. Thanks for this information. I’ve always wondered how much the clubs earn in each competition, and if it’s split with the staff. I wish US Soccer and their corporate sponsors would pony up and give the USOC winner at least a million.

  2. Very interesting! The 300,000 for USOC seems low for a very old tournament. US SOCCER seems content to not promote the LHC as an important trophy. I read somewhere that the Leagues cup is designed to try to eliminate the LHC tournament. More money for the league and keep focus off USL teams, and the hopes for pro/rel.I don’t think MLS would allow pro/rel. at anytime. But stranger things have happened!

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