Gareth Bale of Wales during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 4 match between Wales and Netherlands
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Gareth Bale's Move to the U.S. and LAFC has World Cup Implications

Gareth Bale is one of the most domestically decorated British footballers in the world. And the Wales International is arguably one of the best wingers of his generation. Now, he's taking his talents to the United States.

Bale joined English side Southampton at just 10 years old. After coming up through their youth system, he made his debut in 2006. After 40 appearances he transferred to Tottenham Hotspur, where his career began to take off.

His talents helped Spurs qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Bale's blistering pace was particularly on display at the San Siro, when he scored three nearly identical goals after making Maicon wish he hadn't been starting that day for Inter Milan.

It was really in that moment that the midfielder started to get some attention across Europe.

Gareth Bale Begins His International Career

Gareth Bale celebrates a goal for Tottenham Hotspur

Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

In 2013, NBC Sports acquired the rights to the Premier League, and Bale's international acclaim saw him be their poster boy, his image plastered across billboards in New York City's Times Square. NBC targeted not just Welshman, but his whole club. Many forget that NBC Sports getting PL coverage was actually also the birth of Ted Lasso.

However, that same summer, as his likeness donned a Spurs shirt all over America to hype up the league, Real Madrid came sniffing around. At that point, it was clear that Bale was a superstar, and it was only natural that a bigger club would come knocking. In that transfer window, Real was able to acquire the winger for a then-world record £85.1 million. In joining Real, Bale was joining former teammate Luka Modric and Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo among others.

In Madrid, Bale reached heights he couldn't quite reach with the North London outlet. He was able to raise trophies in Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

However, injuries began to hamper Bale's career, and then the Spanish media and fans began to target him in a negative light. Shots were taken on social media, and many in Spain believed he was lazy and didn't want to play for the club anymore. To an extent, that may have been partly true. But Bale's wages were so high that he seemingly was willing to hang back and not seek a transfer elsewhere. And maybe play a little golf on his off-days.

Wales Great Real While Bale Goes to Spain 

Gareth Bale lifts the UEFA Champions League Cup after defeating Juventus in 2017 Finals

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

During his time in Spain, The Welsh National Team began to grow into something, making runs in the 2016 and 2020 Euros, while climbing up the FIFA World rankings. But they still were missing that elusive World Cup birth. So, while domestically Bale was buried in riches, there was still work to be done on the national level. This June, in a World Cup Playoff Qualifying match, Wales was able to overtake Ukraine for the final spot in this winter's World Cup in Qatar. They'll be joining Group B along with Iran, England, and the United States.

Now that the World Cup is on the horizon, and his Madrid contract was coming to its conclusion, speculation began to swirl around where Bale would land as a free agent. The possibilities should, theoretically, have seemed endless. But the chance of him going back to England to play for Manchester United or Chelsea, pulling a heel turn and going to Barcelona, or to Italy to join Juventus, didn't feel plausible. The 32-year old is clearly approaching the twilight of his career, so maybe it was time for a nostalgic choice.

It seemed a very real possibility that Gareth would find his way to hometown, Cardiff City, and play out the remainder of his career in Wales. But there also seemed to be a chance that he could end up playing in Major League Soccer. David Beckham has been trying to recruit some of the game's elite to join Inter Miami, so that didn't feel farfetched.

But it wasn't Miami, L.A. Galaxy, nor New York Red Bulls who were able to secure his signature. Seemingly out of nowhere, Los Angeles FC swooped in and signed the winger on a free transfer. LAFC currently sits atop the Western Conference Standings, and is an early favorite to win the MLS Cup.

Gareth Bale's Surprising Move to the U.S.

Gareth Bale celebrates a big moment in a game for Tottenham Hotspur

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

This move is surprising for a number of reasons. MLS contracts and pay structures are way more complex than they should be, so it's impressive that LAFC General Manager John Thorrington was able to pull this off. Particularly after adding Juventus Legend Giorgio Chiellini as well. Those are two incredible and decorated players joining an already lethal team.

Managed by former United States Men's National Team and Hannover 96 defender Steve Cherundolo, LAFC boasts goal-scorers in Cristian Arango and Carlos Vela. The forward pair leads the team in goals with six, while Vela also leads the team with six assists. Bale's addition to a team that already leads the league in goals is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.

But the question remains: how was Thorrington able to bring in the likes of Chiellini and Bale without filling designated player spots? If you're not familiar, MLS has a salary cap like many other American sports. In 2007, the league adopted the ability to allow teams to sign up to three players that would be considered outside their salary cap (either by offering the player higher wages or by paying a transfer fee for the player). So, in theory, Bale should be filling one of those spots. It's even weirder when you look into the details and realize LAFC is paying Inter Miami a portion due to his "discovery rights."

However, Bale entering on a free transfer means LAFC is able to use TAM, Targeted Allocation Money, in order to pay his wages without using up a designated player spot. At a base level, this means that TAM is essentially extra money that allows LAFC to lessen Bale's hit to their salary cap. This is all meant to be able to allow MLS teams to compete for highly skilled international players, but it feels more like they've purposely built a number of loopholes into the systems they've created.

A Bale of Cash for Bale is Well Worth It for L.A.

Gareth Bale on the Wales National Team during a UEFA Nations League match

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Regardless, LAFC got their man. But what is to lead us to believe that he will put in shifts that are similar to his early days in Madrid or in Tottenham, and not like the Spanish media has been drilling him for in more recent years?

The answer to that is simple. The World Cup is right around the corner. By booking their ticket with their win against Ukraine, Wales returned to the world's biggest tournament for the first time since 1958. If Bale stayed in Europe, he'd be gearing up for a pre-season tour soon and wouldn't be playing in competitive matches for more than a month.

By joining an MLS outfit, he's able to hop on board mid-season. He can get to training with LAFC, and be inserted in the team whenever Cherundolo deems him ready. And I wouldn't expect that to take too long. Bale is going to want to be in fine form when he gets to Qatar, in hopes of bringing Wales beyond their 1958 World Cup Quarterfinal or 2016 Euro Semifinal finishes.

Even at 32, Bale has the ability to bring more dynamism to the Western leaders. He can play up top and he can still play on the wing. LAFC has found themselves a great piece for the latter half of this season. If Bale gets the playing time I'd expect him to get, he could quickly rise in the MLS ranks for both goals and assists.

While I don't expect he'll rise all the way to the top, the Welshman will walk into Los Angeles with something to prove. The World Cup is that final carrot dangling in front of him. That final piece of motivation to give everything he has left in the tank.

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