Thembi Kgatlana is leaving the National Women’s Soccer League to head to Mexico.
Racing Louisville announced on Wednesday that they have transferred the South African star forward to Tigres Femenil in Liga MX for a substantial return. In exchange for Kgatlana, Racing receives $275,000, the second highest transfer fee for an outgoing player in league history, apart from Lindsey Horan’s transfer from the Portland Thorns to Olympique Lyonnais earlier this year.
And that’s not all. Racing will receive another $25,000 if the forward scores 20 or more goals for Tigres in her time at the club. Should Tigres choose to transfer Kgatlana in the future, Racing will also get a 5% sell-on clause.
Sources say Kgatlana herself will receive a salary equivalent to $550,000 per year from Tigres. To put this in perspective, Maria Sanchez just became the highest-paid player in the NWSL with a salary worth nearly $1.5 million over four years — assuming the fourth-year option is exercised and bonuses are met. That averages out to $375,000 per year, although contracts are always structured with more complexity than that.
That’s still substantially less than Kgatlana is making and it’s no wonder, as the NWSL’s salary cap makes it hard for teams to compete with international leagues that don’t have this same limitation. Even with some reports of the cap nearly doubling to somewhere in the ballpark of 2.2 to 2.7 million dollars in 2024, Kgatlana’s earnings would equal nearly a quarter of that new NWSL cap which is still an outsized portion for a single player. This, of course, begs the question of whether the salary cap is more of a help or hindrance to the league which is sure to be a hot topic of discussion as player valuations continue to skyrocket.
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The fact that Kgatlana has been given such a valuable offer isn’t a surprise. Although she’s been a standout for years, earning the title of Women’s Player of the Year by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 2018, this past year was a breakout for her. In particular, her performance in the World Cup caught the eyes of the world as her stoppage-time winner sent South Africa into the knockout stages after upsetting Italy. When facing the Dutch in the Round of 16, she was hard to contain on the ball and South Africa gave the previous tournament’s runners-up a run for their money in a tougher match than they expected. Even though South Africa did ultimately fall to the Netherlands 2-0, Kgatlana’s heroics helped earn her a nomination for CAF’s Women’s Player of the Year for 2023. It also helped earn her a superstar-level contract at a new club.
For Racing, there’s no question it hurts them to lose another starting attacker after losing Paige Monaghan to Utah in the expansion draft just days ago and after saying farewell to Wang Shuang, Jess McDonald, Emina Ekic, and Nadia Nadim at the beginning of the off-season. Racing is now quite thin on rostered forwards but this transfer does give them some extra money to help furnish a deal. Kgatlana brought a degree of star power with her, however, and acquiring a player of her caliber might not be easy.
Another interesting aspect of this trade that makes it noteworthy is the continued relationship between Louisville and Tigres which has seen multiple players move back and forth. In the last year, Uchenna Kanu moved to Racing, and Alex Chidiac was transferred down to Tigres, and now, of course, Kgatlana has gone to Tigres as well. How this relationship continues to develop in the future and if it yields any more trades or transfers is certainly a plot point to watch in the coming season.
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