Hadji Barry’s record transfer shows growing international respect for USL stars

Quick Hits
  • Earlier this week, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks announced the sale of Hadji Barry to Future FC in Egypt for a USL-record outgoing transfer fee
  • Barry’s transfer is a reminder of the difficult financial realities faced by many USL clubs, but it also shows the growing respect foreign clubs have for talent in the United States’ lower divisions
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Earlier this week, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks announced the sale of Hadji Barry, 29, to Future FC in Egypt for a USL-record outgoing transfer fee. 

Given that Kobi Henry reportedly earned Orange County SC $700,000 earlier this summer, Barry likely earned his club a tidy sum in the vicinity of $800,000. The move raises questions about prioritizing long-term stability over immediate success, the Switchbacks’ tactical future, and the role of the USL as a selling league. Still, it’s a landmark deal regardless of where you land on those questions.

Barry’s skill

Guinean by birth, Barry moved to the United States as a teenager and attended the University of Central Florida before being drafted by Orlando City in 2016. The striker never made the cut in MLS and earned less than a dozen appearances for Orlando, leading to a journeyman stretch of five lower-league teams in five seasons. 

Still, Barry’s potential was real. Barry put up 17 goals with Swope Park Rangers in 2018, showing that his selection as the 13th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft was more than localist bias between Orlando and a UCF product. Barry stands 6’2” with a lanky frame. Nonetheless, he has surprising physical strength and is a solid aerial threat. While not the fastest player, his long strides and precise touches enable Barry to eliminate defenders on the dribble.

The forward’s real breakout began with the Switchbacks in 2021. Manager Brendan Burke brought in the veteran to lead the line in a high-tempo, high-pressing three-at-the-back system, and Barry soared. He scored 25 goals to run away with the Golden Boot and the USL Championship’s MVP award. This year, Colorado Springs added Elvis Amoh, another experienced striker, and used Barry in a much deeper role. There, his creation and long-range shooting led to 16 goals and nine assists in 30 appearances.

Next steps for Colorado Springs

Where will the Switchbacks, who are currently third in the West, turn without their talisman? 

Recently, the team started using a high-powered 4-2-4 shape featuring Amoh and Barry as strikers alongside two fiery wingers. The Guinean international missed the last two games during transfer negotiations, and the Switchbacks moved into a 3-4-3, replacing Barry with hold-up threat and MLS veteran Aaron Wheeler. One of the members of the front four was dropped for a central defender, enabling the Switchbacks to become more aggressive with their wingbacks.

Even with a clear tactical contingency plan in place, the sale of the reigning USL MVP two weeks before the playoffs can be seen as a slap in the face for Colorado Springs’ supporters. The team is doing well in the Western Conference and has the second-leading attack in the West based on goals scored. 

The Switchbacks’ path to playoff success isn’t nearly as clear as it was before Barry’s transfer.

Big for the USL

Many USL teams have to weigh the value of competing for trophies with their immediate financial realities. For some USL clubs, Barry’s high-six-figure fee would fund nearly two seasons of player salaries. That money could be used to purchase a replacement striker with hundreds of thousands of dollars left over to expand academy programs or to make improvements to the club’s stadium.

Even at the expense of a playoff run, the bottom line on the balance sheet makes these sorts of decisions necessary. That’s simply the reality for USL teams in 2022.

Zooming out, Barry’s transfer is yet another endorsement of the USL’s ambition to embed itself in the global transfer market. Young players like Henry, Jose Gallegos, Jonathan Gomez, and Cristian Parano have all earned transfer fees near or well in excess of the six-figure mark, and international clubs are starting to take notice of USL veterans, too. Last offseason, Tolouse FC purchased Birmingham’s Junior Flemmings, a 26-year-old, for a low-six-figure transfer fee. 

Barry has blown that number out of the water at age 29, signifying a growing respect for the USL and its stars on a global scale.