Tuesday marked the close of the primary transfer window for Major League Soccer. Real Salt Lake closed the window with two signings in the final days, with Jonathan Menèndez and Toni Datković inking deals to join the club. After previously adding Rubio Rubin, Anderson Julio and Bobby Wood during the same primary transfer window, it was an active window for General Manager Elliot Fall as he pieced together a team to compete in a heated Western Conference.
But what is a transfer window? And when could RSL add more talent?
The simple answer is that there are two transfer windows in the U.S. In 2021, those windows are:
Primary Transfer Window – March 10-June 1
Secondary Transfer Window – July 7-August 5
Simple enough, right?
Well, there is much more to it than that, so to break down how transfer windows operate, Elliot Fall got into the weeds and explained everything in layman’s terms.
Q: How would you describe a transfer window to fans in the simplest terms?
Fall: A transfer window is the period of time during which you can register new players to play for your team. So, it's the time during which you can bring players in from other clubs around the world - into your league and into the country, essentially. FIFA allows each Federation - each country - to dictate their transfer windows for their professional leagues. Each country is allowed to have one 90-day window and one 30-day window. Our primary window generally opens sometime in early February, and then remains open for 90 days. This year, due to COVID and the delayed season, the window opened a little later. It opened on March 10 and closed on June 1. It was lined up to accommodate players coming in during the offseason and stayed open through the start of the season. Then we will have our secondary window which will open on July 7 and close 30 days after.
Q: How does RSL approach those two windows differently, if at all?
Fall: I don't think we necessarily approach them differently. The primary window is when you're bringing in the players that you're acquiring in the offseason. So it's the bigger window in terms of roster building - more acquisition of new players. But the secondary window also is the one that aligns with European Windows more - or European seasons I guess I should say - more directly, so there's always opportunity to bring good players in in the secondary window as well.
Q: From that standpoint, because you're getting guys from throughout Europe and other places around the world, their contracts end in the summer. Does that alter the player availability? Do those lists change dramatically from one window to the next?
Fall: Absolutely. Generally speaking, and in Europe, player contracts go through about June 30 so during that July window there are often players that come available because their contract ends or their season ends and their teams are looking to move them. So absolutely, the lists of players that are available are often dramatically different.
Q: What's the time between the windows like for RSL’s technical staff?
Fall: It can be very busy. For us, right now, it's not going to be as busy trying to line up acquisitions for the summer window as much as it will be coordinating things for the players we acquired - immigration and paperwork and getting guys settled in. That said, there are some years where you are working to line up deals. You can even execute deals outside of the windows, you just can't transfer a player in. They can't be registered to play for you if they were registered for another club when the window closed. So there isn't any time in the year that isn't busy for some reason, but in between the windows can be the slowest period of time in our jobs.
Q: What kind of things are you able to do in terms of adding players in that time between windows?
Fall: You can move players out at any point in time because transfer windows only apply to incoming transfers. For example if you were to say sell a player to Europe, it doesn't matter if your transfer window is open or not. It's only the destination club’s window that matters. The European window isn't open right now, but we were able to bring in Toni Datković. The Argentine window was not open, but we were able to bring Jony in. But that's because our window was open so those transfers are allowed. You can also sign free agents between the windows, and theoretically you can sign players whose ITCs are already in the Federation that you participate in. So theoretically, we could sign players in the United States if they've already been here. We also have league limitations on acquisitions outside of windows but that's not a transfer window related thing as much as there is a league rule.
Q: For the average fan out there, how would you explain ITCs?
Fall: ITC stands for International Transfer Certificate. It is essentially the player’s passport, for lack of a better word. It's a digital passport that allows them to play for a new team. So that certificate has to be transferred from one Federation to another to allow him to play for a new team. And that is all done through the FIFA TMS, which is Transfer Matching System. Essentially the idea is that all parties involved in the transfer have to input the information for that transfer into the Transfer Matching System to match it so that it is clear that there is an agreement on both sides and then the certificate can be transferred once there is a clear agreement.