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What will happen with the transfer market this summer? MLS GMs weigh in

Around this time, under normal circumstances, MLS clubs would be putting the finishing touches on their squad with deadline day (May 5) for the Primary Transfer Window approaching.

And around this time, under normal circumstances, European leagues would be wrapping up their seasons and shifting focus to the bonanza that is the summer transfer window. There'd be rumors, reports and official deals accompanied by words like coup, splash and marquee in headlines across the globe.

But these times are not normal. The intertwined soccer world is sitting – at a safe social distance from each other, of course – under a cloud of uncertainty. 

No one knows for sure what's going to happen with the global market this offseason, but MLS's transfer market decision-makers have a few ideas and inklings. One thing seems clear: the impact will be sizable

“This will reset the transfer market in every way possible," Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said.

MLSsoccer.com spoke with a handful of GMs across the league for their insight as to what will happen when competitive matches resume and transfer deals can safely transpire again. 

Less money with lasting ramifications 

Axel Schuster welcomed club-record signing Lucas Cavallini to Vancouver during the offseason. | Vancouver Whitecaps FC

One thing that can be expected whenever the market re-opens is a temporary reversal of booming transfer fees across the globe, a natural consequence of revenue hits caused by games being suspended.

“I think there will be less money in the transfer market for minimum the next two windows," Vancouver Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster said. "I don’t think the total volume of transfers will be the same, but there will be a transfer market."

Toronto FC GM Ali Curtis shared a similar prediction.

“I do think the transfer market will exist, but there’ll be a lot less player movement than there’s ever been," Curtis said. "The finances of player movement will be significantly impacted.”

Clubs behaving in a more frugal manner may not be a terrible thing, according to some. Transfer fees in recent years have regularly eclipsed $100 million, with the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Philippe Coutinho and others costing previously unthinkable sums.

“We were starting to get a little bit out of hand," Wilkinson said. "If anything, there’ll be positives to come out of this to resetting value, expectations. It’ll also put players in a position to choose the marketplace as well."

For those clubs more open to selling players, however, the shift in the transfer market may require a shift in strategy.

FC Dallas, for example, have a cadre of young players gathering interest from abroad. Fullback Reggie Cannon was widely tipped to be the next FCD academy graduate to head to Europe, while Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and others have piqued the interest of clubs. 

“There’s not any player we want to sell, obviously we’re open to selling if there’s a good opportunity for the player and club," Dallas technical director Andre Zanotta said. "At this moment there’s no concrete offers.”

More free agents?

With clubs experiencing a shortfall in expected revenue, expenditures will likely be cut. One way that may manifest itself is more free agents being made available as wage bills are trimmed.

“There will be a lot of free agent players," Zanotta said. "I’ve heard from many clubs all over the world that they’re in difficult financial situations, so they’re letting players go. There will be a lot of free agents, this is already happening. There will be opportunities, for sure.”

“I think free agency will be a league-by-league scenario, relative to contract situations and their ability to continue to pay the players," Wilkinson added.

Unrelated to the pandemic, FC Dallas had already agreed a deal to sign Franco Jara as a free agent this summer | USA Today Sports

The calendar could present some opportunities for MLS clubs. With the league's calendar format, most MLS clubs have completed their roster build for the season. It's a different story for European clubs, which do the vast majority of their business during their close season over the summer.

“We are in a very comfortable situation," Schuster said. "We don’t have to do anything, no rush and no pressure, but we can do something. If something comes up then, yeah, for sure, we’ll be there.”

Added Zanotta: “We always need to be open for good opportunities."

Could MLS clubs benefit?

For clubs that are financially stable and in the market for players, there are likely to be many deals available. It's likely to be a buyer's market for whoever has the resources. It's not a bad time to be an expansion side.

MLS will add four clubs over the next two seasons, with Austin FC and Charlotte joining in 2021 followed by St. Louis and Sacramento Republic in 2022. All four need to fill their rosters, particularly Austin and Charlotte ahead of next season. 

“If you’re Austin coming into the league, now is a great time to be looking at player acquisition," Wilkinson said. "Having the same resources as expansion teams over the last few years, when the market was drastically inflated, now you’re coming into a situation where players are 25 or 30 percent of the value they previously were."

With a salary cap and other cost-controlled measures, MLS clubs' finances are stable. 

“It’s different in our market because we have so many restrictions — but that’s good. It controls it," Schuster said. "We discussed how the European market is out of control and ways to control it. … I think this will be maybe the most stabilized league in the world before and after this crisis. We are not are dealing with the same anxiousness and problems like a lot of leagues in Europe are.”

MLS has always been known as a place where checks arrive on time. In other parts of the world, that's not always a given. With the rising quality, competitiveness and quality of life, MLS continues to look increasingly attractive to players across the globe. 

“With MLS being so financially responsible, I think we’ll become a destination for players who want to be valued, be in a competitive league and know their contracts are going to be honored," Wilkinson said. "If you’re in a position to acquire players right now, it’s a massive advantage.”

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