MLS should be able to benefit from foreign transfers – Don Garber
ATLANTA — MLS commissioner Don Garber called the transfer of Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich a “transformational moment” for MLS — so much so that he would like to see the league participate in a system of solidarity payments.
Davies will move to Bayern at the conclusion of the MLS season, and the transfer fee, which could reach $18 million with add-ons, is seen by Garber as way of validating the league’s investment in academies and USL reserve teams.
Speaking to reporters after MLS, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Target unveiled a mini pitch at Anderson Park, Garber’s enthusiasm regarding the deal was evident.
“I do think we need to be very mindful that we’re spending over $100 million of operating cash [running] our programs underneath the first team,” Garber said. “That’s not including the facility investment. We need to find a rational way to justify that. When you have an $18 million sale that has you feeling good, [it shows] that perhaps there are ways for us to achieve some positive economic results.”
While noting that the league should not read too much into one deal, Garber said the fact that Davies is a product of the Whitecaps’ academy sends an important signal to the world market.
“This is a true homegrown player,” Garber said. “It’s not a situation where we inherited some guy that moved to the city and was playing somewhere else. He was born in that academy, coming out of Edmonton and then training in Vancouver’s academy. That’s a great success story for us. I hope he starts, I hope he turns out to be a great superstar, and if that happens, I think it’s going to inspire our teams and players throughout the league.”
The commissioner also believes that the move will validate the steps MLS clubs have taken to improve their product, namely through their youth set-ups.
“I think we suffer a bit in the eyes of the international football community,” Garber said. “I don’t think we get the respect we deserve in terms of what’s happening here. I think they’re intrigued. I think that they do respect what’s happening on the commercial side. But I don’t there’s enough respect for what’s [happening] on the competitive side.”
Vancouver, and Davies’ youth clubs in Edmonton, expect to generate a bonus totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars through FIFA’s system of solidarity payments. The mechanism, part of the organization’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), is designed to financially reward the clubs who developed the players.
But while Canada Soccer allows the payments of spelled out in RSTP for international transfers such as Davies’, the U.S. Soccer Federation — citing child labor laws and antitrust laws, as well as other United States legal decisions — does not enforce the regulations under any circumstance.
The MLS Players Association has come out against the payments spelled out in RSTP, and player agents are also not fans of the training compensation component of the regulations, which stipulate that payments be made to a player’s youth clubs when the player signs a first pro contract.
MLS has gradually been warming to the idea of training compensation in relation to U.S. clubs, especially since MLS academies have been losing players such as Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie — a former FC Dallas academy product — for nothing since RSTP is not enforced.
Garber, who called the situation “complicated” but believes there has been progress in its implementation, is hopeful that some kind of system can be implemented.
“I’d like to see us be able to participate in [solidarity payments],” he said. “It’s not because MLS doesn’t want to, it’s because there are issues as it relates to the labor laws and antitrust laws in our country that don’t fully accept that if compensation is going to someone other than the player, that there are issues with that.
“I want to be very clear, MLS is a winner in the solidarity payment world, and I have no objections to it. But we need to be sure we’re in a situation where we’re not running afoul of getting sued. Our players union isn’t supportive of it. I’ve got great faith in them and I think if we can all come together and find a way to accept the fact that this is a positive for the sport, we should be able to manage our way through it.”