If you’ve missed the latest rumors involving Atlanta United players, supposedly Newcastle has joined Arsenal in pursuing Five Stripes midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Frankly, I’m exposed to more soccer-transfer gossip in five seconds of looking at Twitter than other kinds of gossip from my teenage daughter and her friend on the 10-minute ride home from school.
But the transfer fee that Atlanta United supposedly wants for the Paraguayan playmaker could cause a sea change in MLS: $20 million.
To be frank, teams in MLS have no impactful history selling young non-Americans for what would be considered franchise-boosting fees.
While young Americans such as Jozy Altidore and Matt Miazga were sold for fees of $7.5 million and $5.4 million, Stern John holds the record for young non-Americans at $4.4 million.
While that’s sofa money for teams in England, it’s really not a big return for the cost of scouting, signing and developing.
A fee of $20 million would be, especially considering he was bought for a reported fee of $8.7 million.
If other teams in MLS see an $11 million turnaround on a signing, what do you think will happen? Teams copycat strategies. Fans copycat traditions. There is nothing new under the sun.
As much as fans love players, they are assets to be bought and sold. They know it. It can give them leverage.
Selling Almiron could not only give the league and Atlanta United a fairly big influx of cash, it would enhance the league’s and team’s reputations as next-stage destinations for young players looking for the exposure that can get them to England, Spain, Italy, France or Germany and play in the world’s best leagues.
But that’s just one benefit.
If more MLS teams can find and sign young South or Central Americans with potential, develop them and sell the for fees in the range of what Almiron may bring, what could be done with that cash?
Theoretically, more revenue received means more opportunity to invest in scouting and infrastructure.
Most importantly, the salary budget may be relaxed because teams would have more money to spend on players.
That could have a two-fold effect:
First, MLS isn’t going to become one of the world’s best leagues until it can start to either develop or sign the world’s best players. That’s obvious.
Though the Designated Player rule in MLS has helped lure talent with the guarantee of higher salaries, it’s still not consistently bringing the young players from Europe that could possibly enhance the quality, interest and excitement of the league. Look at the teams still alive in the MLS playoffs. The ages of the Designated Players are 33, 27, 29, 21*, 22*, 24*, 30, 38, 35, 32, 27, 32, 27, 29, 31, 31, 34, 28, 31, 26, 31, 27, 30, 30. The three youngest, notated by asterisks, all play for Houston. They are really the only players that could likely be sold for profit. Just two in the entire list are from Europe. Many MLS teams are spending the money on the wrong side of the age curve.
Those young Europeans players may not ever join teams in MLS. But having more cash to splash on salaries may help. And why single out Europe, instead of South America? Because those are the players that many in the U.S. know because of the associated TV contracts. That’s where these players become first known.
The second effect is a leap, but it’s my blog so what the heck:
I believe that the U.S. won’t become a world soccer power for at least two more generations of players, or 20-30 years.
There are many reasons.
I think one of the most important is probably the silliest: star power and the need to give more young athletes more choices.
Why would some parents want to push their child toward soccer if they aren’t sure it’s something they can make a good living at doing even if they are lucky enough to become a professional? Where are the SI covers? Where are the ads on social media? Where are the TV campaigns?
Higher salaries and more interest can change that in a very short time.
Kaka was the highest-paid player in MLS last season with a guaranteed salary of $7.2 million. That’s good money. But it’s nothing compared with the other leagues in North America.
The average NBA salary in 2016 was $6.25 million, with the list topped by LeBron James’ $31 million annual deal. The average salary in MLB in 2016 was $4.4 million. The NHL’s was $2.9 million in 2015-16. The NFL’s was $2.1 million in 2015.
The average salary in MLS was $308,969 in 2016.
That’s not enough to turn heads.
But that could change.
That may start with selling Almiron.
If selling him turns into the first step in a multi-year series of transactions that MLS and/or its teams can pull off, the short-term pain may not be fun, but the long-term gain could be huge.