Why Selling Young Academy Products is Good for the Growth of American Soccer

FRISCO - MLS Commissioner Don Garber made it a point at his annual State of the League address in December that the next step for America’s top league is to become more of a selling league - regularly contributing in soccer’s active global transfer market. 

Soccer holds a unique position in the world of American sports. Unlike football, baseball, basketball and hockey, where players - and their contracts - are traded from one team to another within the same league, soccer is a global game with dozens of high-quality leagues in every corner of the world. While it's uncommon in American sports, worldwide fans are accustomed to the buying and selling of players. The notion of moving contracts across international borders and governing league bodies is soccer’s version of the trade market, solely centered around a monetary price tag.

"We all need to get used to the fact that, in the world of global soccer, players get sold,” Garber told reporters in the days leading up to MLS Cup 2018. “I viewed a whole list of them over the past couple of days and (Manchester United’s Romelu) Lukaku is 25 and he's already had four or five teams that he's played for.”

FC Dallas has made a giant leap into the worldwide transfer market through its own Academy, first selling the contract of Richard Sanchez to Mexican club Tigres UNAL in 2014 for a reported $1 million. Now, they’ve topped that figure with the transfer of Chris Richards to European powerhouse FC Bayern Munich. Neither played a single game for the FCD first team. 

“I hope this is the new normal course of business for MLS, where players who have yet to appear in the first team are sold. I think that will really contribute to an explosive growth of the league,” FCD President Dan Hunt said this week referencing the regular practice that takes place among the top leagues in Europe and South America. “It's fabulous for MLS and it becomes a very healthy business from a soccer standpoint when teams are trying to move around Academy products for seven digits. If you develop a player in the first team, you're talking about something in the eight-digit range, that's fabulous for MLS.”

Selling some of your top prospects might seem counter-productive to the future of a club, but it’s also what keeps the ever-spinning cycle moving. The more you can develop and sell, the more you can take the proceeds and invest on the overall player budget and on your investment to continue developing the next young star. It’s a never-ending circle of production and re-investment. By MLS rule, not a dollar of any transfer can be pulled out for profit, it all goes back into the club. 

The pieces continually keep moving and the more MLS continues to partake in the highly-competitive player market, the more it can continue to grow its product both on the field and in the eyes of the largest leagues in the world. 

“As I look at the competitiveness of our teams,” Garber continued, “We need to have the kinds of clubs that exist all over the world where you have to earn your way onto that field as a young player and you have to earn the money that is now available."

For FC Dallas to, in one year, have fostered the development of Richards to the level that one of the top clubs in the world is all-in is something to be celebrated as the club and the league continue to evolve.