MARIETTA, Ga. – Alphonso Davies’ record-breaking transfer from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich last week wasn’t just a career-altering move for the star Canadian attacker – it was a potentially huge moment for MLS, too.
The $13 million transfer, which could rise as high as $22 million if the 17-year-old hits various performance benchmarks, broke Jozy Altidore’s 10-year-old record for most expensive move for an MLS player. It wasn’t big just because of the price tag, though. The Davies transfer is a transaction that could soon be replicated around the league.
Davies was scouted in his hometown of Edmonton starting at age 13, he joined the Whitecaps academy at 14, signed a pro deal with their now-defunct USL outfit at 15 and inked an MLS contract just a couple of months later in July 2016. He got limited run in his first two seasons, teasing fans with his talent in his rookie year and showing more glimpses in 2017 before exploding onto the scene this season with five goals and 10 assists in 21 league matches.
Crucially, Vancouver were willing to sell early, before there was even time for Davies’ stock to conceivably drop. His sale could fundamentally change the direction of the ‘Caps. MLS rules require them to take the millions Bayern will pay them in January and re-invest them into their team, either directly into the MLS squad, in their academy or elsewhere. The fee can be used to sign a new player who can later be moved for money that can then be used to make another signing, and so on and so forth.
For a club that’s not near the top of the league in player salary expenditures per MLS Players Association numbers, that’s a huge opportunity. For the rest of MLS, it’s a picture of what the future could – and perhaps should – look like.
“I think it’s saying it’s not just potential anymore,” FC Dallas defender and Davies’ fellow MLS All-Star Matt Hedges told MLSsoccer.com after the All-Stars’ training session on Monday. “We have guys making those moves, we have those big moves now. I think you see the academies growing and producing great players, so I think it’s going to happen more and more. Maybe that’s the first one that kind of starts a flood of young players moving. I hope it is, because we have tons of great players, young guys in the league. In Dallas, we have a bunch of them. I hope it’s the one that starts it.”
Transferring talented players can hurt teams in the short-term, particularly when it’s done midseason. In the long-run, however, it should only be beneficial for the league. The financial perks are obvious. From a soccer standpoint, it’s never a bad thing for clubs to have more money that they are mandated to invest back into their teams.
There are less tangible benefits, too. As players like Davies move into Europe and, potentially, build successful careers on the continent, the worldwide perception of MLS as a league that’s capable of developing impact players will grow. That should create a better market for transferring players abroad, which should lead to more money coming into the league. It should also make MLS a more attractive destination for talent. Young players looking to build a career out of South or Central America will see the value that MLS can bring to their career. Their counterparts in Europe will see a higher quality league. Recruitment should improve. The standard should rise.
“I think worldwide it just brings a little bit more credit, a little bit more validation to the league,” said All-Star defender Michael Parkhurst, whose Atlanta United teammates Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez have been linked with interested suitors abroad. “I think that we don’t necessarily need it, I think that the league is in a great spot and I think that things are going the way we want it to go and that’s upward. But I think anytime you have a transfer like that it opens eyes. It gets more people looking. And even with our guys as well, there are teams globally that I’m sure have their eyes glued on some of the guys on our team and that’s great for everyone involved.”
For Hedges, who saw former FC Dallas teammate Mauro Diaz make a big-money move to the United Arab Emirates earlier in July, moves like Davies’ aren’t just a feather in MLS’s cap. They’re an opportunity to help grow the league.
“Hopefully it’s for big money, but if it’s not, it’s alright," Hedges said. "But I think those moves really will help strengthen the league.”