Congrats! For the next 1,200 words or so, you’re very talented. Like really talented. Don’t run from it. Embrace it. I know it’s new, but so is a lot in your fictional life right now. You’re heading to a new club, a new city, a new team, maybe a new country and definitely a new life. Because you’ve just agreed to a transfer. Or you’ve been traded (sorry). Or you’ve just signed a new contract. Because you’re talented. And you play soccer. And you’re heading to a new MLS club.
It’s that time of year for a lot of folks like yourself. The MLS transfer window is open and teams are scrambling to strengthen their rosters before the season starts April 16. And there’s a lot to figure out now that you’re on the move. Where are you going to live? Do you need a car? How will you get paid?
The good news is you don’t have to worry about that. Not really anyway. There are people at each club taking care of that for you. Each will do things differently from the next. But the thesis behind having these things taken care of for you is the same: The only thing you should be worried about is soccer.
That could be with a long-established winner like Columbus, a major-market club settling into consistency like LAFC, or an expansion side like Austin FC. Either way, the first thing they’re going to do is make sure you’re going to get paid. And if you’re a player new to the country, that can require a little extra work beyond filling out a couple of forms. The folks behind the scenes have to make sure your social security number is squared away, but to do that, they first have to make sure you can work in the United States.
Immigration is rarely an easy process, but increased restrictions due to policy changes and COVID-19 have made work for team administrators even more difficult. Fortunately for team administrators and players, MLS teams work with immigration service providers to help work through a complicated process. That process eventually allows US-based players to get what’s called a P visa (an O visa for players of celebrity status), and maybe even an EB1-A green card designated for a “non-citizen of extraordinary ability.”
“It's a long, laborious process,” said Geoff Huber, a team administrator for LAFC. “And for every single player or staff, it's different. I mean, sometimes it can take six weeks. Sometimes it can take three months. The green card process can take six-to-12 months.”
That’s largely taken care of by the front office, though. You don’t have to do much. Even when it comes to getting your social security card, your driver’s license, or any other identification. Most front offices have relationships with local agencies that allow teams to handle most of the work for you. All you have to do is show up. You probably won’t even have a line to wait in.
Getting to know you
The only thing you’ll really have to worry about is answering questions. Beyond the bureaucracy, the team administrator or player care coordinator’s job largely revolves around getting to know you. Before you join the team, you’ll essentially go through a one-sided first date. The team will want to know your likes, your dislikes, what your family wants, if you even have a family, and other relevant topics to ensure you feel at home in a new city.
So you’ll hop on a call (or maybe your agent will) and they’ll ask you everything they can. There are practical and secondary benefits to it. Getting to know you and your family will help team administrators find you the proper place in town to live and may even get you an excellent welcome package.
“If you find out their wife likes to go to get their nails done, you make sure you set that up," Columbus Crew SC technical director Pat Onstad said. "You figure out if they have children because then you know if you have to set up childcare or if schools are important.
“We have all these processes so that players hit the ground running. And then for us, we have a lot of little things that we do, little bells and whistles. For example, making sure when they came in there, their house was stocked with food that we know that they like. Simple things like that. Those are kind of little details that I think we do a really good job of.”
You’ll head out soon after that. Most teams will have you stay at their designated hotel, but you shouldn’t be there for long. They’ll have relationships with local realtors and car dealerships that get you settled at your new place quickly – at least in normal times. The pandemic is forcing teams to do things differently. Especially for an expansion team like Austin FC, which is handling a mass influx of players that exceeds a regular year.
To do that, they recently set up shop in an Austin hotel for a couple of weeks. As the players come into the city, isolation in the hotel allows them to meet players, get to know them and find out how to best make Austin their home going forward. They’ve even created a welcome packet for the players full of information about key locations in the area, how far they are from the stadium at each stop, options for schools and more. It’s all done to make sure things are easy once the shine of a new city and a new team wears off.
“Eventually these guys are going to show up one day and they're going to not have the same smile they did in the first two weeks,” said Andrew DiLallo, Austin’s director of team operations. “And it's kind of knowing from that experience that we have to make them feel at home and we have to come up with creative ways to make them feel like they're part of the family.”
The little extras
Sometimes feeling part of the family means your family gets gifts. Columbus will dish out gift baskets, specifically for family members that are filled with jerseys, flowers, edible arrangements and anything else that's of interest. Austin have slowly gifted their welcome packages before the team’s first-ever game, including Yetis and more surprises we’re not allowed to ruin.
Hopefully, all of these things will combine to make you feel comfortable from the start. And if it’s not the start, maybe it will come eventually. Many teams around the league are hiring full-time player care coordinators to make sure you have what you need. Whether that’s a place in town that speaks a more familiar language or an upgrade on your car, they’re there to help you worry mostly about soccer.
Which would be great for you if you were actually talented and not being used as a narrative device. So take a deep breath and enjoy these last few moments of a simulation where you’re talented. Know that the folks actually on the team aren’t worried about much.