Major League South America: Beckham's Inter join US hunt for the next Almiron

Beckham Almiron Inter Miami Atlanta
Atlanta United was the first team to see the potential of heading south in search of talented youngsters and many more clubs are now following suit

The January transfer window continues unabated, with frantic activity on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Major League Soccer's biggest sides are busy reinforcing for the coming 2020 season, with the addition of two new franchises, Nashville and Inter Miami, having only intensified the competition for players.

With former LA Galaxy star David Beckham as its owner, Inter has been unsurprisingly busy in the market.

Former Juventus youngster and Venezuela Under-20 captain Christian Makoun has already been joined in Miami by two Argentine teenagers, ex-Estudiantes winger Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza, who swaps Banfield for Florida after shining at U17 and U23 levels for the Albiceleste.

In addition, the team has also moved to install Uruguayan Diego Alonso as its coach. The South American influence is already obvious, and hardly surprising.

Miami as a city is considered a slice of Latin America within the US with 70 per cent of the city's population of Hispanic origin, and the importance of the Latino community to the club's fortunes is shown by the fact that its full name, Club Internacional de Miami, is in Spanish.

However, it is not as if other clubs aren't pursuing South American talent.

The 22-year-old Paraguay international Mathias Villasanti, who presently plays for Cerro Porteno, looks set to follow in the footsteps of Miguel Almiron and sign for Atlanta United, who are also close to clinching a deal for another Cerro prospect, left-back Santiago Arzamendia.

More than 100 South American players were on MLS rosters in 2019 and that impressive number will almost certainly increase this year.

This is nothing new, of course. Since the inception of MLS in 1996 – when its MVP was Colombia legend Carlos Valderrama – and even in the days of the old NASL, South American players have featured prominently in the American game.

However, it was Atlanta, under the guidance of coach Gerardo Martino, who set a new trend. Instead of recruiting middling journeymen or veteran stars from his native continent, Martino decided to focus on the next generation, embarking on an ambitious recruitment policy that focused entirely on players under the age of 25 and with resale value in Europe.

Almiron PS

Almiron is naturally the model for success. Already a double champion in Paraguay and Argentina, the playmaker left Lanus for Atlanta at the age of 23, the Georgia outfit paying around $8 million (£6.1m) for his services.

Two sparkling seasons later, he made the jump to Europe, with Newcastle United agreeing to a £21m deal that left the MLS club laughing all the way to the bank.

“Everyone thinks that one goes to MLS to retire but that is a mistake,” Almiron, who had been linked with Villarreal and several other European sides prior to his Atlanta, told ABC Cardinal back in 2018.

“The league is growing year on year. I don't know if we can compare it with others but it is slowly growing and this is important.

“Young players are arriving who fit in with those who have more experience.”

Atlanta chose to replace their talisman with River Plate's Pity Martinez, while they can also now call upon ex-Independiente wonderkid Ezequiel Barco and the unstoppable Josef Martinez. Unsurprisingly, other clubs have followed their example.

Galaxy boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto moved quickly to add former Boca charge Cristian Pavon – a one-time Arsenal target – to his ranks after taking over in 2019 and the Orlando City midfield for the coming season will feature both Ecuador international Jhegson Mendez, 22, and 19-year-old Colombia youth international Andres Perea.

David Beckham England 2019

For South American footballers, the benefits of moving to MLS are clear.

The wages on offer, even taking into account salary cap restrictions, far outstrip what it is possible for a young prospect to earn in most of South America, while the example of Almiron shows that the US need not be a dead end for ambitious footballers looking to make it big.

“I have been here [at Banfield] for many years and it was a tough decision to leave the club,” Carranza told reporters on announcing the move to Inter Miami. “But I had to take it, pick up a new route, new paths.”

Where many promising talents have previously accepted moves to countries such as Russia and Ukraine and failed to settle, the shock of leaving home is far less severe for South Americans who land in the United States.

While many MLS newcomers may be unfamiliar with English, they can instantly recognise the birthplace to beloved South American cultural staple The Simpsons and barbecues that match the best Argentina and Uruguay can offer.

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There's also the fact that Spanish is accepted as an unofficial second language in many areas in America thanks to the large Hispanic communities.

Not every player will follow the path of Almiron to Europe of course. So far, the Paraguayan's Premier League move has not resulted in a huge increase in interest in MLS' young stars, making him the exception in this still relatively new experiment.

But as preparations for 2020 roll on, more and more clubs are looking to South America and its most promising footballers to reinforce their title bids, with one eye on present success and the other on lucrative future windfalls.