Gonzalez transfer accelerates Berhalter's on-field vision

Berhalter: "We're creating a soccer environment that can improve the value of players"

Giancarlo Gonzalez

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USA Today Sports Images

Good soccer leads to good business, and good business leads to good soccer.

That's the mantra that was professed by Crew Chairman and Investor-Operator Anthony Precourt at the introductory press conference for new President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane last weekend. Today, the club underlined its commitment to that ethos with the news that, while not official, the Crew has agreed to sell defender Giancarlo Gonzalez to Italian Serie A club Palermo.

Quite simply, this was a deal that the Black & Gold could not turn down. The transfer fee, albeit it undisclosed, is the largest in club history and the largest ever for an MLS defender.

The impact of the deal is twofold. Focusing on only this specific transaction, the money that the Crew takes in from Gonzalez's transfer is significant enough to accelerate the plan that Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has implemented from day one.

"In the short-term, you take a hit that you're losing one of the best defenders in the League," said Berhalter. "In the long-term, this enables us to get to where we want to go faster. We had a plan about becoming a high-performance club, having a great scouting network, building the Academy. This enables us to do that at a faster rate."

More importantly, however, consider the holistic nature of a transaction like this. By taking in a player like Gonzalez, developing him, and moving him on for a record fee, the Crew is accomplishing a big-picture coup that slowly moves the club toward the type of philosophy that Precourt, Berhalter and Loughnane want in-place. 

"We're creating a soccer environment that can improve the value of players," said Berhalter. "In Giancarlo's case, we took a guy that wasn't a starter in the Norwegian First Division and turned him into a big-time player."

Continued the Crew boss: "It shows that we're a club that puts players in an environment where they can improve themselves, and any player would want to be in that type of environment … Players realize 'the club's going to look out for me.' We're a player-first club. We want players to have a great experience here and we want them to really enjoy playing for the club ... We're going to look after the best interest of the individual.

"In this case, we were able to work with a foreign club to put Giancarlo in a situation that not many people get the chance to do, play in Serie A."

There are two other MLS clubs that have executed similar, high-profile sales of in-prime talent this season: Sporting Kansas City, which sold Oriol Rosell to Sporting Lisbon, and Seattle Sounders FC, which sold DeAndre Yedlin to Tottenham Hotspur. Is it a coincidence that these are the two clubs that lead each Conference at the moment and are often regarded as the frontrunners of MLS success?

Furthermore, these are two clubs that have followed this model for years: Seattle sold talisman Fredy Montero. Sporting KC sold mainstays Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza – both to teams in English football. Both have reputations of not being "selling clubs," but of being attractive destinations for players, as well as clubs known for good business models that lead to on-field success. The Crew's sale of Gonzalez is a move that helps it progress toward being a club in that tier.

"When you look at different types of clubs, there are clubs that acquire players with no resale value. There are clubs that take a player and increase his resale value. There are clubs that actually buy those players at a higher resale value," said Berhalter. "For us to fit in that middle category is good … I think it looks good for our club and for what we're trying to do as an organization."

It's important to note the difference between being a "selling club" and what the Crew is trying to achieve. Seattle, Sporting KC and now the Crew have intentions to re-invest the money. The organizational effects will be far-reaching as the team further executes its vision.

The Crew's Academy alone fully benefits from today's news. The odds of the Black & Gold developing the next Gonzalez or Wil Trapp just increased exponentially. The Crew is already developing Homegrown Players at an impressive rate, boasting one of the most renowned Academy programs in MLS. Now it has the opportunity to invest in its operations and become even stronger. 

On a global level, consider the case of current La Liga champion Atletico Madrid. The list of players that it has sold over the most recent years reads like a world best XI: David De Gea, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Falcao, Martin Demichelis, Diego Costa and Felipe Luis, just to name a few. This summer alone, however, Atleti used the funds to buy big-name players like Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann, along with some youth prospects. It has also held onto Diego Godin for now. It's all part of the connection between good business and player development – good business leads to good soccer, and vice versa. That's what the Crew wants to achieve.

Long-term, the Crew has visions of being a club that players see as a destination, as a place where they can get better and achieve their dreams. That will allow the Black & Gold to attract talent and perform better on the pitch. Today's sale is another step in that process. Precourt, Berhalter and Loughnane have a plan – a plan which is only just beginning to unfold.