MLS prepares for important summer transfer window as World Cup approaches
Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan unknowingly highlighted the busy and important period ahead for MLS this summer when his name surfaced in the rumor mill on Wednesday. Kljestan didn’t ask for a Belgian outlet to link him with a move to LA Galaxy in the waning stages of a title chase. He just found himself thrust into the middle of it all as a familiar name linked to a MLS club.
Kljestan, of course, remains focused on more important matters at hand. Anderlecht isn’t done with the Belgian season. US coach Jürgen Klinsmann hasn’t announced his 30-man preliminary squad for the World Cup yet, though Kljestan’s recent lack of match practice may count against him there. This isn’t the time to publicly contemplate potential transfers. And he told FOX Soccer’s Leander Schaerlaeckens as much by email.
Just told by Sacha Kljestan that his rumored transfer from Anderlecht to the Galaxy is "not something I am thinking about for the moment."— LeanderLastNameNoFit (@LeanderOnFOX) May 7, 2014
As the European season draws to a close over the next couple of weeks and as the World Cup approaches, the focus will naturally shift toward the possible transfer business ahead during the summer for American internationals like Kljestan and prominent figures from across the world. Some MLS sides will hope to do a deal or two before the end of the primary transfer window on May 12, but the really important moves will likely wait until the start of the secondary transfer period on July 8. The one-month window offers an opportunity to approach players under contract with other clubs and tempt them into a move to the United States or Canada.
This particular summer presents the perfect time for global stars to contemplate an experience further afield and for MLS to do everything in its power to attract them to North America. Although several US internationals, Brazil goalkeeper Júlio César and England forward Jermain Defoe sealed their transfers to MLS in the buildup to the World Cup to guarantee first-team action, most established players prefer to make this sort of switch in the aftermath of big tournaments. It is, after all, easier to state a case for a World Cup place with regular match practice in one of Europe’s best leagues.
Most of those concerns dissipate in the wake of a World Cup, though. The tournament comes around once every four years. The aftermath offers the ideal time for players unlikely to perform in another World Cup to make the leap and take a risk with their career choices. MLS, more often than not, ends up on the list of potential destinations.
It is exactly the sort of scenario designed to benefit a league always in search of more wattage, particularly given the plethora of available and suitable candidates. Kaká opted for a return to AC Milan to bolster his bid for a spot in Brazil’s World Cup squad, but his omission from the 23-man squad named on Wednesday could lead to a summer switch to Orlando City or some other interested MLS suitor. Other possible targets – from oft-discussed targets like Didier Drogba to other household names kept well out of the public eye – might also field interest from clubs willing to spend significant money to tie up a potential deal.
At that stage, the success or failure of the potential pacts rests upon financial considerations (rest assured desirable signings will increase their demands substantially after the contracts handed to Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Defoe over the past nine months) and practical issues (LA Galaxy and Toronto FC are both fully stocked with Designated Players, for instance). These deals are also complicated. Some – like Defoe’s complex agreement with TFC – take months to complete. Others – like Tim Cahill’s decision to swap Everton for New York a couple of years ago – proceed rather quickly.
MLS will hope to navigate those hurdles and seize upon the opening provided to strengthen considerably during the summer. Most of the focus on the past year fell upon bringing US internationals back into the fold, but the scope must widen now. It is incumbent on the league to find a way to build upon the attention and momentum generated during a World Cup year. It cannot determine whether Klinsmann and his players will succeed, but it can strike in the transfer market to build upon the foundation laid.
As for Kljestan and other American players pondering a potential return, the landscape is a bit more complicated. The impetus to sign with MLS for regular playing time diminishes a bit. The economic considerations in play – including the appetite to splash the cash on American players after a World Cup with enticing global stars also available and the potential hazard of taking a pay cut if a Designated Player-level deal isn't offered – assume a more prominent role. Familial considerations – particularly given the way returning US internationals proceed through the allocation system without selecting a particular destination – always matter, too.
For now, those deliberations must wait. There are other important matters for potential targets to discuss and dispense over the next month or two before the secondary window opens. But the time for decisive action is quickly approaching. And MLS must take full advantage to continue its recent progress and strengthen its hand for the future.