When Columbus Crew SC signed Artur on loan from Brazilian giants São Paulo FC back in February, it seemed like one more example of the typical case of a team gambling on a young unknown player as a low-risk, high-reward kind of investment.
Ten months later, and with the Brazilian part of Crew SC’s roster on a permanent basis, the move can now be perceived in a very different way: it was the Black & Gold joining a recent trend in Major League Soccer.
The path coursed by Artur was the same other young South American players made in recent years, coming to the league first on a loan contract and then a permanent status. This were the case with Luciano Acosta leaving Argentina’s Boca Juniors to join D.C. United and Jefferson Savarino moving from Venezuela’s Zulia to Real Salt Lake.
These transfers could be considered absolutely normal, since MLS clubs have traditionally relied on South Americans to build their rosters, but the ages of these three players – Artur and Savarino are 21 and Acosta is 23 - show a new trend on this movement.
“In terms of Artur’s decision to want to stay, part of it is that MLS is growing,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said about this recent pattern of moves. “It is a league for young, exciting players. You see it in a number of cases all around the league. The profile or our league is increasing a lot, almost all of our games were live on TV in Brazil and we are getting noticed.”
MLS’s new profile gives the clubs another interesting and intriguing window to sign players. Some deep-pocketed teams, like Atlanta United, have the ability to spend some dozens of million dollars for the likes of Miguel Almiron and Hector Villallba, who were already established players in the South American market. But to those who are not as wealthy, there are also ways to make things happen.
For Crew SC and Artur, the key point was tightening the relationship with São Paulo. That happened when the Black & Gold headed to Brazil and were hosted in the club’s training facilities for the 2017 preseason. That was when Artur was first spotted and when his loaning was agreed.
“(Artur’s deal) speaks volumes also to the relationship we have with São Paulo,” Berhalter added. “It’s a very good club, known for producing a lot of great young players and they felt like he was in good hands letting him develop here with us. It’s not an official partnership we have, but we established a good working relationship. São Paulo is a historic club in Brazil and just to see how they work and to see how they develop players was very good for us in preseason.”
South American clubs are very aware of soccer’s growth in North America and they are intrigued by the possibility of exposing their brands here and getting their slice of the pie. It is not a coincidence that a preseason tournament named Florida Cup was created in 2015 and that 21 out of its 33 participants so far were South American clubs.
Teams such as Brazilian giants Corinthians, Flamengo and Santos, Argentinean powerhouses Boca Juniors and River Plate, Uruguayan traditional Nacional and Peñarol and Colombian up-and-comers Atletico Nacional and Independiente Santa Fe are more welcoming than ever to engage in relationships with MLS clubs.
This could mean a two-way partnership, with MLS clubs providing the exposure the South Americans wish and putting themselves in a better position to sign young players on loan.
“When it makes sense, we like to have close relationships with clubs and we will evaluate each of them in an individual basis,” Berhalter said when asked if Crew SC was pursuing more partnerships like the one with São Paulo.
With or without new partnerships, the club is clearly focusing on the South American market. For months, the name of 19-year-old Argentinean left-back Milton Valenzuela of Newell’s Old Boys has been linked to Crew SC. Recently, a scout of the club was watching a match at the Uruguayan first division.
Black & Gold fans everywhere eagerly await to see what the next move by Crew SC will be. But there’s a good chance, given these recent trends, that a new signing could come from the South American market.