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Transfer Review: 2020 MLS Season

Now our newly developed Intra-MLS Market Value Calculator is live, it’s time to take a look back at the transfers conducted over the 2020 MLS season. Please note that due to this new method of valuation, there will be considerable discrepancies between this article and our previous review of the 2020 Primary Transfer Window in the MLS.

This time around, internal MLS transfers under £100k (according to Transfermarkt) have been discounted to reduce outliers. Any further outliers have been excluded from the transfer data.

A total of 76 transfers have been considered within the data with over $200,000,000 changing hands over the 2020 season. These transfers returned a positive variance of $26,763,604 or 13.2%.

The most notable player transfers and clubs will be analysed further below, before our 2020 MLS efficiency table.

Most efficient player purchase

Excluding outliers, the most efficient purchase of the 2020 MLS season was LAFC’s purchase of Francisco Ginella for $2.47m from Montevideo Wanderers.

The Uruguayan midfielder came through the academy at Montevideo and made his senior debut as a 19-year-old against Racing Club de Montevideo in April 2018. Ginella may have made his debut sooner if he hadn’t picked up a meniscal injury at the start of the season and just five months after his debut, a ligament injury ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

The 2019 season saw the return of Ginella and the midfielder quickly established himself as an integral part of the first-team set-up at his hometown club, making a total of 26 appearances over the 2019 season. This was despite missing 12 games due to international duty.

International appearances are responsible for the bulk of Ginella’s valuation. Just one month after making his debut for Montevideo, the midfielder received his first call-up to the Uruguayan U20 side, going onto make nine appearances (including three at the U20 World Cup).

Thanks to this experience, the defensive midfielder was valued at just over $10m at the time of his purchase by LAFC.

Over the Uruguayan’s first season in the MLS, Ginella averaged 1.11 chances created, 48.60 passes, 1.93 tackles, 1.49 interceptions and 0.67 clearances per 90 minutes and has established himself as a regular feature for the Uruguayan U23 side, making five appearances to date.

These performances will surely have caught the eye of Oscar Tabarez and a senior international call-up would likely lead to a surge in European interest and a subsequent spike in the player’s market value.

Most accurate player purchase

The most accurate transfer of the season was found to be Darlington Nagbe’s move from Atlanta United to Columbus Crew.

The trade saw Atlanta receive $700,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, $150,000 in General Allocation Money an international roster spot for the 2020 season as well as a further $200,000 in Targeted Allocation Money for the 2021 MLS season. These payments could also increase further, should certain performance-based conditions be met.

The current (excluding conditional future payments) value of this package equates to approximately $1.2m as international roster spots are typically traded for $150,000 – $175,000. We currently value Nagbe at just over $1.1m, with this transfer producing a variance of roughly $73,000.

Nagbe, now a three-time MLS Cup winner, was the 2nd pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and made his professional debut on the 3rd April 2011 for the Portland Timbers and quickly established himself as a first-team regular, making a total of 28 appearances over the 2011 season. The Liberian-born American remained as one of the first names on the team sheet throughout his time in Portland, making a total of 239 appearances for the Timbers before joining Atlanta for the 2018 season.

Atlanta United were entering just their second season in the MLS when Nagbe arrived and despite achieving a place in the playoffs in their debut year, were eliminated in the first round by the Columbus Crew. In the Five Stripes’ second season, they achieved a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference and Supporters Shield, before reaching the MLS Cup final. Nagbe made a total of 28 appearances in his first season with Atlanta, including a start in the MLS Cup Final against his former side, the Portland Timbers. Atlanta came out top with a 2-0 victory, becoming champions in just their second MLS season.

The following season, Nagbe became even more integral to the Atlanta United side, making a total of 46 appearances in the MLS, US Open Cup, Campeones Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Whilst Atlanta were defeated by Toronto FC in the semi-finals of the playoffs, they became the first American side to win the Campeones Cup and also lifted the MLS Cup in 2019.

Over the 2019 season, Nagbe averaged 0.7 shots, 1.05 chances created, 50.42 passes, 1.16 tackles, 0.7 interceptions and 0.55 clearances per 90 minutes.

On the international stage, Nagbe made his senior debut in November 2015 in a World Cup qualification game against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines but only played a bit-part role under Jurgen Klinsmann. During Bruce Arena’s second stint as USMNT coach, the midfielder became a more regular feature and played in every knock-out match of the 2017 Gold Cup, which the USA won. After Arena’s departure though, Nagbe played just once under Dave Sarachan and hasn’t received a call-up since. In total, the Columbus man has made 25 appearances for the USMNT. 

In 2020, Nagbe was restricted to just 19 appearances due to injury and despite featuring in every playoff round for the Crew, Nagbe was “medically not cleared to play” in the MLS Cup final. Columbus went on to win 3-0 against the Seattle Sounders, lifting their first MLS Cup since 2008.

Least efficient player purchase

Finally, we assess the least efficient transfer on the window, which was found to be Inter Miami’s purchase of Matias Pellegrini. The Argentine winger had played just 21 first-team matches for Estudiantes before being purchased by Inter Miami although he was loaned back to the La Plata-based side until the beginning of the 2020 MLS season. He is also yet to appear for his country in any age category.

Despite Pellegrini’s lack of senior experience, Miami paid $8.91m for the then 19-year-old. At the time of his purchase, we valued Pellegrini at $1.91m, producing a negative transfer variance of approximately $7m.

In his first season in Miami, Pellegrini made a total of 20 appearances, scoring once and providing two assists. Over these appearances, the Argentine averaged 1.59 shots, 1.23 chances created, 21.05 passes, 2.03 crosses, 2.64 tackles and 0.88 interceptions per 90 minutes.

Whilst Inter Miami have taken a significant gamble on an inexperienced player, their recruitment team clearly believe in the winger’s abilities. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for Miami to turn a profit on Pellegrini; Alphonso Davies, Miguel Almiron and Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez have all left the MLS for fees in excess of $10m in recent years. However, in order to do so, Pellegrini would have to establish himself as an undisputed MLS All-Star. Whilst the Argentine remains some-way short of this level, at just 20 years old, he still has plenty of time to prove his worth in the MLS.

Most efficient club

New York City are found to have conducted the most efficient transfer business over the 2020 MLS season, with two transfers being considered; the purchases of Keaton Parks and Nicolas Acevedo.

Keaton Parks spent the 2019 season on loan with NYCFC from Benfica, making a total of 26 appearances as Domenec Torrent’s men topped the Eastern Conference yet were defeated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs by Toronto FC.

Parks has also appeared three times internationally, making his debut for the USMNT in May 2018 in a friendly against Bolivia. Since then, the midfielder dropped down to the U23s, featuring in friendlies against Egypt U23 and Netherlands U21.

This experience provided Parks with an estimated market value of over $8m at the time of his purchase, yet NYCFC paid Benfica under $1m for his services. Since making his move to New York permanent, Parks has averaged 2.14 shots, 0.88 chances created, 43.61 passes, 2.63 tackles, 0.73 interceptions and 1.32 clearances per 90 minutes.

As for Acevedo, he was brought to New York following a season in which he appeared 32 times for Liverpool FC (Montevideo). Over the 2019 season, only Federico Martinez and Hernan Figueredo played more minutes than the then 19-year-old.

At the time of his purchase, Acevedo had already made five appearances for the Uruguayan U23 side. It should be noted that since Acevedo joined New York City, the Uruguayan U23s have not played a fixture.

Similarly to Parks, this gives Acevedo an estimated market value of around $8m at the time of his transfer although he was purchased for just $2.5m. During the 2020 season, the defensive midfielder averaged 0.55 shots, 1.65 chances created, 64.21 passes, 6.04 tackles, 1.10 interceptions and 2.20 clearances per game.

Overall, New York City FC’s transfer variance equated to $12,411,029.

Least efficient club

As for the least efficient club, this is found to be Inter Miami. The Club made three purchases during the 2020 MLS season with Rodolfo Pizarro, Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza all moving to Miami. However, the purchase of Pizarro has been discounted as this represented an outlier in the transfer data.

As the purchase of Pellegrini has been discussed previously, this just leaves Julian Carranza. The two Argentines both joined Miami in July 2019 and were the franchise’s first-ever signings. Carranza was purchased from CA Banfield and remained here on loan until the beginning of the 2020 MLS season.

Drawing further comparisons with Pellegrini, Carranza was also inexperienced in senior football when he was purchased by The Herons, having made a total of 36 first-team appearances. The striker was also yet to feature for his country but was called up to the Argentine U23 side for international friendlies during September 2019, appearing against Bolivia U21 and Colombia U23.

These statistics provided Carranza with a valuation of just shy of $2.5m, $3.5m below the roughly $6m paid by Inter Miami. Again, whilst this deal certainly represents a gamble, Carranza has plenty of time to prove his worth in the MLS and the lower transfer fee compared to his compatriot should alleviate some of the pressure from the young striker.

Over the 2020 MLS season, Carranza made 17 appearances for Inter Miami, scoring twice and averaging 1.90 shots, 0.63 chances created and 8.86 passes, 2.53 tackles and 0.79 interceptions per 90 minutes.

In total, Inter Miami’s transfer variance is -$10,499,045.

2020 MLS efficiency table:

PositionClubClub Transfer Variance
1New York City FC$12,411,029
2Minnesota United$11,598,439
3Chicago Fire$6,667,726
4Vancouver Whitecaps$5,038,766
5DC United*$3,912,909
6Portland Timbers$3,439,831
7Colorado Rapids$3,225,985
9Houston Dynamo$2,786,838
10Orlando City SC$2,259,568
11Philadelphia Union$1,514,427
12San Jose Earthquakes$1,189,623
13FC Dallas$886,813
14Atlanta United$858,026
15Sporting Kansas City*$184,161
16Toronto FCNo transfers completed
17Montreal Impact-$135,245
18LA Galaxy*-$163,102
19Real Salt Lake*-$173,618
20FC Cincinnati-$1,398,806
21New York Red Bulls*-$1,474,076
22Seattle Sounders-$1,556,807
23Columbus Crew SC-$3,329,016
24Nashville SC-$3,459,139
25New England Revolution-$7,912,484
26Inter Miami*-$10,499,045
*Denotes an outlier has been removed from the transfer data


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