MLS has striven to become a "selling
league," a home for young players seeking to use the league as a stepping stone for a move to a bigger league, and 2019 activity suggests it is finally making some modest strides in that regard.
Transfer fees (received by U.S. clubs)
2016: $16.1 million
2017: $2.4 million
2018: $19.6 million
2019: $59.5 million
Transfer fees (paid by U.S. clubs)
2016: $25.2 million
2017: $68.7 million
2018: $107.9 million
2019: $107.0 million
FIFA has come out with its annual report of transfer activity, including fees paid, from its International Transfer Matching System, the online system that registers all international transfers of male and female players.
It shows that in 2019 U.S. men's clubs received $59.5 million in transfer payments, triple the previous year. When you add in payments to Canadian clubs of $30.4 million, the combined payments of almost $90 million would rank MLS (and the USL) in 12th place in the world in 2019.
The U.S. and Canadian payments were boosted by transactions involving Miguel Almiron and Alphonso Davies for fees reported to be a minimum of $24 million and $13.5 million, respectively. In all, there were 13 moves from MLS clubs to foreign clubs that involved a transfer fee in 2019.
Nine of the 13 transfers took place in the winter of 2019. Other multi-million dollar moves involved Tyler Adams, Sebastian Giovinco, Ola Kamara, Chris Richards and Victor Vazquez.
So far in 2020, there have been seven transfers. They have likely produced more modest payments, however, totaling about $5 million. MLS clubs have targeted young South Americans but so far none of them has been transferred this year. Activity will likely pick up in the summer.
MLS clubs have always faced a dilemma in entering the player market. Most activity takes place in the summer -- in the middle of the MLS season -- when clubs are forced to break up their teams if they want to get the highest fees for their players. Winter transfers make more sense from a team management perspective, but many European clubs don't participate on the winter market.
U.S. clubs spent in excess of $100 million on players for the second year in a row in 2019. That spending should increase in 2020. At least seven non-expansion side are believed to have already broken their club-record transfer fee this offseason: Sporting KC, Vancouver, San Jose, Columbus, FC Cincinnati and the LA Galaxy.
Other highlights from the FIFA reports for 2019:
-- The number of men's transfers into the USA continues to grow rapidly: up 31 percent -- the highest increase of any country in the top 10 -- from 311 in 2018 to 411 in 2019.
-- Almost 18 percent of all outgoing women's transfers involved a player from a U.S. club, 147 in all, almost triple the next highest number of outgoing transfers.
-- Almost 19 percent of all incoming transfers approved by FIFA for female minors involved a player moving to the USA, 62 in all, more than double the next highest number of incoming transfers involving female minors.
The use of the International Transfer Matching System only became mandatory for women’s transfers in 2018. Spending on the women's side increased more than 16 percent in 2019 to $652,032.
The men's spending: $7.35 billion.
2019 MLS outgoing transfers:
MF Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United/ENG)
DF Gaston Sauro (Toluca/MEX)
DF Chris Richards (Bayern Munich/GER)
FW Ola Kamara (Shenzhen FC/CHN)
MF Andre Horta (Braga/POR)
DF Zakaria Diallo (Lens/FRA)
MF Alejandro Silva (Olimpia/PAR)
NY Red Bulls
MF Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER)
FW Anatole Abang (Nantong Zhiyun/CHN)
FW Henry Wingo (Molde/NOR)
MF Victor Vazquez (Al-Arabi/QAT)
FW Sebastian Giovinco (Al-Hilal/RSA)
FW Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich/GER)