July 26, 2018

For most sports in North America, transfer fees are a foreign idea as every spring and summer NFL and NBA players change teams as free agents. This summer, we witnessed the best basketball player in the world, Lebron James, move from Cleveland to Los Angeles after signing a 4 year, $154 million contract with the Lakers. We also witnessed one of the best soccer players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus for a record $120 million.

While Major League Soccer, an investor-operated league controlled by a group of owners with vested funds into one Limited Liability Company, is controlled by current NFL owners and former executives, the league has maintained most of the North American model of sports, no relegation league, playoffs, etc. However, when it comes to transfer fees to Europe, the league and its owners are beginning to cash in and black soccer players are their top financial trade commodity.

Alfonso Davies, the 17 year old teenager who is set to join Bayern Munich on January 1st from the Vancouver Whitecaps for an estimated $13.5 million, which could increase to $22 million with performance based add-ons, will be the highest transfer fee in MLS history shattering the record previously held by Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore for $10 million following his move from the New York Red Bulls to Villareal FC in Spain in 2008.

Earlier this year, Canadian national team and former Montreal Impact player Ballou Tabla moved to Barcelona for an undisclosed transfer fee. Barcelona has since set his buyout clause to €25 million for the first three years and €75 million if the deal is extended, therefore, it is safe to say that MLS did not transfer Tabla free of charge. Add Deandre Yedlin’s transfer fee to Tottenham Hotspur from the Seattle Sounders for $4 million in 2014, and Stern John’s transfer fee from the Columbus Crew to Nottingham Forest for €3.42 million in 1999, and collectively black players from MLS to Europe are the highest valued transfers of all ethnic groups.

Although transfer fees to Europe have enriched many MLS clubs, they haven’t always panned out well for the black player. In 2007, Freddy Adu, who many can make the argument was set up to fail in the US with such high expectations at DC United, transferred to Benfica in Portugal for a reported $2 million. At Benfica, he only made a handful of appearances before bouncing around to AS Monaco in France, followed by other clubs in Portugal, Greece, and Turkey. Now 28, Adu has played for fourteen clubs in as many years since his debut as a 14 year old. He now currently plays for the United Soccer League’s Las Vegas Lights.

Altidore also struggled in his initial move to Europe dealing with injury and a loan spell to Spain’s 2nd division, while under contract with Villareal. Eventually, Altidore would find his stride at AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands in 2011 leading his team in scoring with 34 goals before another transfer to Sunderland in the Premier League where he only scored one goal. He would later return to MLS to help Toronto FC win the MLS Cup last year.

Many other notable US Men’s National Team black players have transferred to Europe since the league’s inception in 1996, DaMarcus Beasley from Chicago Fire to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands in 2004 for a transfer fee of $2.5 million, and Tim Howard in 2003 from the New Jersey Metrostars to Manchester United for $4 million.

All of the players have had their ups and downs in Europe, but one common denominator is that they all returned to MLS. But for Davies this time around may be different and he hopes to remain in Europe for a very long time, and if he performs well  on the field and financially then this may continue to open the door for more black players in North America to aspire to become professional soccer players.

Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp to Liberian parents, Davies moved to Ontario when he was 5. He then moved west to the province of Alberta, before settling in British Columbia where he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy program.  “I am very happy with my move to Bayern,” Davies told Bayern Munich’s website. “As a kid I always dreamed of such a moment. Now the dream has come true. But now the work continues, now I have to give everything to take advantage of this opportunity.”

So this begs the question why do clubs all over the world want black players from MLS? Well, one reason is because they see that the quality of the league has improved over the years because of black players. Foreigners currently make up 56% of the MLS. Statistics show that only 10% of the 664 players in league are black, but this isn’t true. We ran the numbers and included black foreign born players, and the league’s percentage of black players increased to 31%. Of the 30 players on the Philadelphia Union roster, 16 are black. If the Union’s roster is any indication of where  former General Manager Earnie Stewart hopes to take the USMNT, then we can expect to see more black players at the senior national team level. Now, there is only one question left, how do we get more black owners in MLS’s LLC to covet transfer fees that have exploited our players for so many years?      ​

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