The influx of South American talent to MLS has become a defining feature of the recent progression of the league, and it's a trend that only figures to expand with time.
Felipe Cardenas, who covers Atlanta United and MLS for The Athletic, joined the latest episode of Extratime to talk about, among other topics, how the relationship between the league and South America has evolved over the years, and how MLS has become a platform for younger and younger players to develop.
"There's always been a relationship with South America and MLS going back to the inaugural season in '96," Cardenas told hosts Andrew Wiebe and David Gass. "I think what's changing now is the players that are coming are getting younger. I think the young money fund is going to advance that type of scouting as well. Certain teams I think will start to open up in different markets. It's not going to be just focused on Argentina and Uruguay, for instance."
Covering Atlanta United, Cardenas has gotten a first-hand look at a team that has imported South American talent to great success. However, Cardenas cited Ecuadorian prodigy Moises Caicedo as the type of player he expects MLS teams to target with more frequency in the coming years, perhaps even more than the more established professionals that we've seen come to the league in recent years.
The 19-year-old Caicdeo was the subject of a well-documented bidding war that reportedly included Atlanta United before he eventually ended up going to English Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion.
"These are unproven players, which I think is really interesting," Cardenas said. "They're unproven at the professional level, but they've already been identified as prospects, as players that can play right away once they can sign a professional contract.
"I think you're going to continue to see that. Like Moises Caicedo, Atlanta, from what I've been told, they were really close. It was close to get Moises Caicedo who ended up at Brighton. And that's a 19-year-old who's already a starter at the senior national team level. There aren't a lot like that. But I think that is the trend: Going younger. Even in Atlanta's case, I think the transfer fees are a little bit lower than what you expect and what you've seen from Atlanta for Pity Martinez and [Ezequiel] Barco. They're not paying these record fees anymore, but you're getting these prospects that can step in and play. They are a bit of a project, but it's all part of this growing trend."