Going into its 18th season, MLS has sent plenty of players to Europe. In that sense, the transfers of Andy Najar (to Belgium's FSC Anderlecht) and Brek Shea (to England's Stoke City) and the loan of Kei Kamara (to England's Norwich City) are not particularly ground-breaking developments.
What is noteworthy, though, is how those moves fit into a larger trend as the volume of these moves has increased significantly over the past year. Combined with the transfers of Geoff Cameron (to Stoke City) and Tim Ream (to Bolton), MLS has cleared somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million in transfer fees on those four moves alone. That's essentially enough money to pay the combined 2012 payrolls for five entire teams.
The downside of this is that some of the league's best talents are taking their services elsewhere. While that may not seem like a positive development for people more interested in quality of play than economic bottom line, moves like these have the potential to improve both.
If MLS is really to become a bonafide feeder league, that's not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it's a sign that MLS is actually producing quality talent. Shea and Najar both joined the league as teenagers and were undeniably developed here. Najar joined D.C. United's academy as a 15-year-old before eventually signing his first professional deal at 16. While Shea didn't join MLS until he was 18, he spent his formative years in the U.S. Soccer residency program at IMG Academy. As MLS academies continue to mature, these kinds of stories promise to become even more common.
Conversely, these kinds of moves have the potential to actually attract more talent. At least for the foreseeable future, the big money will continue to be in Europe. Young players in Central and South American know this, obviously, and if they see MLS as a stepping stone, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Would it be better if the next Falcao say MLS as a destination? Of course, but the league is better off having someone like that for a year or two than not having them at all.
Just as importantly, up-and-coming Americans will hopefully start looking at MLS as a better option than playing in someplace like Sweden. The league has developed a, perhaps, undeserved reputation as making transfers more difficult than necessary, but these recent moves should show that the league is not holding its players hostage.
The money MLS and its teams have made in these deals should only perpetuate the cycle. Spent wisely, the fees may lead to short-term pain but should lead to long-term gain.