David Beckham started it when he moved to LA Galaxy in 2007, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kaka continued it, and now Champions League winner Alphonso Davies has completed the cycle.

Major League Soccer’s transition from “retirement league” to one that develops and sells talent is in full swing and not before too long according to one leading MLS club executive.

Speaking to UCFB as part of the Toronto Virtual Summit, Chris Shewfelt, Vice President of Business Operations at Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts, said the process of the league signing Beckham and the introduction of the ‘designated player’ system 13 years ago has allowed the MLS to grow in a number of ways off the field to enable the likes of Davies to go on and become superstars.

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Toronto FC's Chris Shewfelt spoke about the growth of Major League Soccer at our Toronto Virtual Summit.

He said: “This is when the league took off [when Beckham arrived]; franchise value started to grow and there started to be a lot more attention towards the MLS.”

Shewfelt continued: “A lot of people UK called the MLS a retirement league at that point; it was a case of going out and finding players that would drive marketing, interest in the franchise and sell tickets. Maybe the product didn’t improve that much because you were only improving the top end, not the middle or the bottom. But the evolution of the MLS in recent years has seen tremendous movement in the composition of roster, an increase in the salary cap, and tools that can be used by general managers to add better players to the middle and lower end of their roster.”

Shewfelt said that the starting salary for a “middle to lower” roster player has increased substantially in that time, and despite designated players still earning significant seven figure salaries, those players are becoming younger in age with the league “incentivising teams” to sign younger designated players, which means clubs get a relief on their salary cap.

Signing younger players also means the opportunity then arises to sell talent on – Miguel Almiron’s £20m move from Atlanta United to Newcastle United in 2019 eclipsed the fee Bayern paid for Davies the year before.

“The league needs to transition to one where we are a league of sellers, not just buyers, and that’s the phase that we are in now,” explained Shewfelt.

“Look at Alphonso Davies. He’s a product of Vancouver Whitecaps; they found him as a refugee and he came into their academy from Edmonton, which is a very small town in Canada. Their programme found him, development him from a very young age and then sold him to Munich as the largest transfer in league history at the time.”