Will Europe start buying MLS stars?
You can learn a lot about a soccer league from its transfer spending.
According to FIFA, the top six soccer associations by net transfer spending in 2017 were England, Germany, China, France, Italy and the United States. Five of those make perfect sense.
The Premier League, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A are four of the top five leagues in the world, where clubs regularly pay huge sums to acquire the best players. China’s Super League recently tried to spend its way – some say recklessly – into becoming a global player. And then there is Major League Soccer.
Despite its stated ambitions, MLS is not considered one of the best leagues in the world. For years it pursued an attention-grabbing, star-centered strategy similar to China’s. U.S. teams have a trade deficit worthy of a White House tweet storm, buying $69 million worth of players last year while selling just $2.4 million.
But with a wave of youthful South American signings and a slick-dribbling Canadian teenager, MLS is trying to change all that and produce some much-desired cash for a league that continues to lose money each year.
The player who may shift the narrative is Alphonso Davies, 17, a Liberian left-footed winger who has already made 63 appearances for the Vancouver Whitecaps, the first when he was only 15. Davies, whose talents were on display at Wednesday night’s AllStar Game, was born in a Ghanaian refugee camp and emigrated to Canada at age 5.
Groomed in the Whitecaps’ academy and the pride of a recent MLS focus on so-called homegrown players, Davies was poised to emerge as the league’s brightest young star until last week, when Vancouver and the league announced that he would join the German powerhouse Bayern Munich in January, in the most lucrative player sale in MLS history.
Bayern paid the Whitecaps $13.5 million for Davies’ rights. In his first game after the deal was announced, Davies had two goals and two assists, at least temporarily quieting those who do not believe a 17-year-old MLS player can hack it in the Bundesliga.
Davies said in an interview Monday that consistent minutes in the MLS at a young age had been vital to his development, even as he acknowledged “everyone’s fear of going to the big club and not making it.”