MLS: How the League is Developing International Talent
The bleachers are buzzing with news of Atlanta United star Miguel Almirón transferring to Newcastle United in an MLS-record $27 million deal. And while the move may have made more than a few MLS fans sigh, there is more to consider here than the usual despairing narratives.
To be fair, the sighs come for a reason. The 24-year-old Paraguayan midfielder has been dominating the league since day one. Almirón is arguably the most promising player in the MLS. In fact, his 13 goals for Atlanta last season were instrumental to the club winning the MLS Cup. His chemistry with former teammate Josef Martínez also shows that Almirón is a team player. Therefore, the star has a lot to bring to the table, and he is only starting to reach his prime.
But let’s be honest here. While MLS fans may have been disappointed, this surely is not a surprise. The league has become an attractive destination for Latin American talents. Nevertheless, the best players know that there are bigger stages across the Pond. We could name more than a few of MLS top-billers who have gone the same way. Jack Harrison, Alphonso Davies, and Tyler Adams are just a few. The list goes on.
What made the Almirón transfer such a head-turner are the numbers. Sky Sports reports that the $27 million deal is almost triple that of Alphonso Davies’ $10 million deal last year, but it’s a lot closer to the money Newcastle previous transfer record that they paid for Michael Owen ($21.6 million) from Real Madrid. The price tag not only indicates that the team recognizes Almirón’s talent, but with the odds that bwin are currently giving Newcastle to get relegated from the Premier League this season, the signing actually gives the club a huge chance of staying up. There is real optimism around Newcastle that the signing will pull them out of a relegation battle. However, it could also help them secure a mid-table finish.
The price tag also affirms the MLS’ real, but rising, value in global football – and that is no small matter. The MLS is arguably still the most significant league in the American continent. It is generally much more accessible to possible talent from other parts of the world. The influx of talent with levels as high as Almirón’s will only improve the league’s quality moving forward. More importantly, the money acquired through these transfers can help the MLS in acquiring more quality talent.
While there are valid concerns over the MLS’ sustainability and ability to retain stars in their prime, its current role as a transitional stop for players can also be seen as a good sign. After all, it’s been a while since the MLS has developed a talent that got international attention. Many are taking more and more MLS talent seriously. Including former New York Red Bull Tyler Adams and former Columbus Crew goalie Zach Steffen. If that is not a testament that the league is gaining new ground, the Almirón deal surely is.
More importantly, this also indicates that the Premier League is only going to get more intense. With clubs such as Newcastle looking at other sources of talent to challenge giants such as current champions Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, we are assured that the level of competition is only going to amp up.
In the meantime, the MLS will keep developing talent and making structural changes until it gets to a level that could make its players think twice about crossing the Atlantic.