M.L.S. has supported these academies with initiatives like paying to send youth coaches to learn at France’s famed Clairefontaine training center. It is the maturing of this system that will hopefully produce more players like Davies.
Bob Lenarduzzi, president of the Whitecaps, said the team tried to mimic clubs like Ajax and Lyon, who are successful because of the players they develop, not the players they buy. It quickly became clear that Davies would not be a Whitecap for life.
“With someone like him it is just the natural evolution,” Lenarduzzi said.
Selling homegrown stars could completely change the economics for M.L.S., as there aren’t many opportunities for immediate revenue growth. The league’s national television deal, which runs through 2022, pays each team an average of just $4 million annually, and most teams receive even less for their local television rights. Only so many fans can be packed into a stadium. Ticket prices rise only incrementally, even in a city like Atlanta, where demand is high.
On the other hand, the average M.L.S. academy costs about $3 million to operate annually. The Davies transfer can cover years of developing more players just like him. Also, the $13.5 million the Whitecaps received for Davis is $5 million more than their total team salary for the season. It is more than the total season salary of all but four teams.
For M.L.S., producing players in the fashion of Portugal’s Primeira Liga, the Netherlands’s Eredivisie, or the Brazilian or Argentine leagues would be a major achievement.
There is one major stumbling block. Generally, when players signs their first professional contract or are transferred abroad, the club or clubs that trained them must be compensated by the signing club. Besides paying Vancouver for Davies, Bayern Munich will also pay a much smaller fee to the Edmonton Strikers, where Davies played before Vancouver.
While this is how things work for clubs in Canada and the rest of the world, it’s not how things work in the United States. The United States Soccer Federation doesn’t enforce transfer compensation or solidarity payments. The reason is complicated and involves a two-decade-old lawsuit and child labor laws, but the upshot is that American clubs do not receive compensation simply for training a young player. They must sign them to their first professional contract.