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Major League Soccer’s Impending Venezuelan Migration

Amidst domestic chaos, Yangel Herrera and Nahuel Ferraresi look to break ground stateside.

MLS: Toronto FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Following Venezuela’s 2nd place finish in the 2017 U-20 World Cup, a soccer revival for the South American nation appeared to be on the horizon.

Venezuela seemed primed to both bolster its national team and domestic leagues.

As Nicolás Maduro’s socialist Venezuelan regime continues to collapse — killing dozens and arbitrarily detaining over 5,000 — young talents have begun to flee the nation, most notably for Major Leauge Soccer.

For NYCFC fans, this migration has lead to the one-year acquisition of midfielder Yangel Herrera.

Herrera, the captain of Venezuela’s runner-up side at this year’s U-20 World Cup, spent three years in the Venezuelan league, playing for Monagas SC and Atlético Venezuela.

In early 2017, as the crisis began to intensify, Herrera made his move to the Bronx, by way of signing with City Football Group.

Since Herrera has been safely stateside, the crisis has devolved, most notably in the form of a helicopter attack on the Supreme Court, the U.S.’s evacuation of diplomat’s families, U.S. sanctions, and the kidnapping of opposition leaders.

While Herrera has gotten settled in the U.S., his influence has extended to Venezuela, with his home nation repaying the favor.

Despite the MLS’s limited international reach, NYCFC gear has been spotted in Carácas.

While Herrera has extended NYCFC’s reach to Venezuela, his roots have not been forgotten.

During June’s Hudson River Derby, played in New Jersey, Venezuelans made their concerns heard.

While Herrera has yet to openly or actively criticize the Maduro regime — potentially for fear of putting family members in danger — he has alluded to his nation’s struggles.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated in June, Herrera explained the importance of the U-20 team he captained.

"Back home, the games in South Korea were really early in the morning, but we would hear how people would either wake up really early or stay up to watch it, and that meant so much,” Herrera told SI.com, adding “it was this unconditional support that meant everything, so I'm happy to know that we were able to reward them with a small gift, especially as we, as a nation, are going through such a difficult time."

Following the U-20 team’s success, the players were welcomed back as heroes in the streets of Carácas.

Herrera, after returning to NYCFC, was not with the team.

Fourteen players stepped foot on the field in Venezuela’s U-20 loss to England. Only six of these players currently live in the nation they represent. One of these six looks to be on the move.

Following his countryman Yangel Herrera, reports indicate that Nahuel Ferraresi will soon be playing at Yankee Stadium as well.

According to reports, Ferraresi will join Uruguayan side Atlético Torque, with a move to NYCFC in January.

Ferraresi, an 18-year old Center Back, was responsible for a goal which defeated USA in the U-20 World Cup.

While Herrera and reportedly now Ferraresi have agreed to play in the Bronx, other Venezuelans have fled elsewhere.

On January 1st, Yeferson Soteldo was transferred from Venezuela’s Zamora to Chile’s Huachipato FC. The 20 year old striker commanded a €1.4 million transfer fee.

On July 1st, Williams Velásquez was loaned from Estudiantes Cáracas to Watford’s U23 team, which will run through June 2018. He currently plays for Real Valladolid B, a third tier Spanish side.

On July 4th, Sergio Córdova was transferred from Cáracas FC to Bundesliga side FC Ausburg for a fee of €1 million.

On July 14th, Ronaldo Peña was loaned to Portuguese side Moreirense through 2018.

Although not a member of the U-20 team, on May 9th, Jefferson Savarino was loaned to Real Salt Lake from Venezuelan side Zulia.

Herrera, Ferraresi, Soteldo, Velásquez, Córdova, Peña, and Savarion are now playing outside of Venezuela for the first time in their young careers.

This wave of fleeing Venezuelans is one which U.S. soccer leagues, including the MLS, USL, and NASL, can take advantage of.

For young Venezuelans fleeing a struggling and increasingly-violent nation, the importance of $53,000 — the MLS minimum — along with safety, cannot be understated.

With Herrera and Ferraresi, NYCFC and City Football Group look to be ahead of the trend.

As the crisis intensifies and players continue to flee, look for more teams in the U.S. and elsewhere to take notice and follow suit.