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What MLS’s new Youth Transfer Fund could mean for RSL

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Because you just can’t keep a good journalist from breaking a good story, Paul Tenorio — recently of The Athletic — reported that MLS is set to introduce yet another chunk of money for its teams.

The Youth Transfer Fund, as reported by Tenorio in the Athletic, consists of a $3 million fund given to each team to use until 2022 for the purpose of signing players 20 years old and younger from outside the league.

If that sounds a bit like the first iteration of Targeted Allocation Money or the Homegrown Player Fund, it’s almost certainly not a coincidence. The league has shown a willingness to explore strategic investment options that exist outside the salary cap.

That’s born in part out of necessity, as the collective bargaining agreement between the MLS Players Association and Major League Soccer dictates the salary cap, leaving the possibility for MLS to provide mechanisms for teams to adjust the salary cap impact of any particular player. This falls under that sort of mechanism.

It’s an area of strategic investment that doesn’t necessarily fit with what RSL is trying to accomplish — not outright, at least — and that’s something Tenorio notes. That’s because RSL has long talked about being the sort of team that develops players through their academy setup, then sells those players for a tidy sum. That’s yet to have happened, though, and the closest we have is Carlos Salcedo, who forced his way out of the club on his way to becoming one of the dominant Mexican center backs of his generation.

But on the other hand, featuring young, talented internationals on your team is one way to help your homegrown prospects reach their full potential. Though older than the new fund’s target at 22 when he signed, Albert Rusnák’s impact on everyone at the team has been an overall positive one. He may keep one or two homegrown players from immediate minutes, but he’s also helped develop the players around him with his professionalism and ability to influence results.

Still, this rule is certainly aimed helping teams that are more in the “have-nots” column where academy growth is concerned. While the number of teams in that column have decreased over time, with most teams seeing value in investing in their academy setups, there are still teams that are falling behind. MLS certainly sees value in helping those teams build up their portfolios; given the single-entity nature of the league, value for any given team is value writ large for the league.

With an already young team, though, it will be interesting to see if Real Salt Lake uses it immediately. If the fund has an expiration date, and it doesn’t decay or anything if not used before then, I could realistically see RSL sitting on the money for a time while they evaluate their options.

In fact, with the way results are going, it seems RSL could use some veteran leadership, and that may just be a higher priority than yet another young star.