The Transfer Market: A primer on MLS' place in the upcoming transfer window

Kevork Djansezian

The transfer window opens in a month, where international associations will be looking at MLS players and vice versa. Here's a primer on the transfer market, why MLS players go for the prices they do, and what players MLS teams can afford to look at.

With the transfer season about to heat up, their are certainly questions out there about exactly how the transfer system works. I'm not an expert, but like your high school history teacher I will look up the answer if I don't know it off hand.

First off the transfer window, which opens on July 1st, applies only to international transfers. Transfers between clubs in the same association can be made as soon as competitive play is over. The FIFA windows govern international transfers into an association.

So when the window opens one thing that will happen is MLS getting offers from other national associations for MLS players. The question was posed this morning in the comments section as to why MLS transfer fees seem much lower than others. The examples given were:

Moutinho to Monaco – 25 million pounds
Falcao to Monaco – Rumored to be around 60 million pounds
Gotze to Bayern Munich – 37 million euros
Shea to Stoke – 4 million dollars
Najar to Anderlecht – 2 million dollars
Ream to Bolton – 2.75 million
Altidore to Villarreal – 10 million

I've learned from watching The People's Court that contracts are only valid if both sides receive something. This is called consideration. In order for a contract to be binding, both sides have to provide consideration whether it be money, or goods, or services.

When the Football League formed in England, restrictions were put in place that once a player registered with a club he was unable to register with any other. This was to prevent players running off and signing with richer clubs, but had the side effect of having players out of contract and unable to get on somewhere else. It wasn't long until clubs released they could demand cash considerations for the transfer of a players registration.

In the same way that contract swaps in the American sports leagues have to be somewhat balanced (though there are plenty of bad trades that have been made over the years) the transfer fee is related to the relative value of a player. Sites like TransferMarkt.co.uk track a player's transfer value, and are great to bookmark during the silly season.

Looking at Brek Shea's progression you can see how little value MLS players hold, and how much they can jump. Shea had eight appearances with the US national team in 2011 and then trained with Arsenal in the offseason taking his value up two million pounds in one season. Similar situation with Tim Ream.

Even once players start getting the national team call-ups and spend time training in Europe, the price jump isn't into the European star range. In MLS, where a whole team can be worth less that Gotze's transfer fee, no one player is going to have the leverage to command a blockbuster transfer fee. It all goes back to fair consideration, and a players worth in the market is relative to their current worth in their home association.

The other way the transfer window works is MLS teams bringing over international players. Because of MLS' salary budget, transfer fees paid for players coming in aren't going to be that much greater than what Shea and Ream were sold for. Since transfer fees in other associations are so much higher, that usually means waiting until a player's value declines.

The transfer fee the LA Galaxy paid for Robbie Keane fits with his value progression downward, which was the lowest in his career. You can see how much Tottenham overpaid for him the first time around, with that huge spike on the graph there.

We took a look earlier today at players LA should be looking at for the third Designated Player position. While Frank Lampard's value is about where Robbie Keane's was when the forward was brought over to the LA Galaxy, it's easy to see how some of the other familiar names are simply out of reach.

Someone like Luca Cigarini who has seen his value rebound but is still worth paying a little extra for due to his relative youth would be a great get for an MLS side.

So hopefully the transfer market, and MLS' place in it, makes a little more sense now.

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