10 MLS Players European Clubs Should Be Targeting for Transfers
Over the last few years, Major League Soccer has gained more recognition for the talent it develops and sells overseas.
The crown jewel of the string of prospects to move to Europe is Alphonso Davies, who in a quick span has gone from starting for the Vancouver Whitecaps to playing left back for Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final.
Another MLS product, Tyler Adams, scored the game-winning goal to send RB Leipzig into the UCL semifinals.
While the list of players to come through the pipeline are primarily North American, there have been a few to come from South America to MLS to Europe, like Miguel Almiron.
The list of potential transfer targets in MLS fill a few of those categories. There are intriguing young American prospects who have made strides in their development over the last 12 months as well as electric South American stars who have established themselves as top-tier players or have potential to be on that level.
Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas
Reggie Cannon appears to be one of the few candidates at the front of the line to be next to move overseas from MLS.
The 22-year-old fullback has been a constant fixture for three seasons in the FC Dallas defense. He has made 67 regular-season appearances for the Western Conference side.
Of the players eligible for the U.S. men's national team reportedly in line to move, Cannon carries the most international caps. He earned his USMNT debut in October 2018 and has made 10 more appearances for Gregg Berhalter's side.
The right back is one of the better young two-way players in the league, and he could have an advantage in moving faster since FC Dallas has become a reliable source for young players.
In 2019, FC Dallas transferred Carlos Gruezo to FC Augsburg and sold academy prospect Chris Richards to Bayern Munich.
Brenden Aaronson, Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia had two Americans break out during the MLS is Back tournament, one of whom was Brenden Aaronson. The attacking midfielder had three assists in the tournament as the Union made a run to the semifinals.
Aaronson has been a factor in the Union's lineup for both of his seasons as an MLS player.
The biggest difference from 2019 to 2020 for the 19-year-old New Jersey native is his physical play on the ball.
Aaronson has been less tentative in the final third throughout his sophomore campaign, which should lead to higher goals and assists totals.
Since he is not the finished product yet, it may be wise for Aaronson to spend the rest of 2020 in MLS to further develop his game before making the jump.
Mark McKenzie, Philadelphia Union
Of the two Philadelphia prospects, Mark McKenzie looks like the more polished of the duo.
Since MLS resumed play in Central Florida, McKenzie has rarely put a step wrong in a defense that earned a trio of clean sheets.
McKenzie has read the game to near perfection, and in one of his most recent games against New England, he thwarted an attack that put constant pressure into the final third. The Revolution finished with a single shot on target.
The decisiveness shown alongside Jack Elliott in the Union back four could make him a candidate to start right away when a move overseas happens.
McKenzie was directly linked with Celtic during the MLS is Back tournament. ESPN's Taylor Twellman said the Scottish club was “all over” the defender (h/t MLSSoccer.com's Dylan Butler).
Eduard Atuesta, Los Angeles FC
Defensive midfield is far from a glamorous position, especially when your team boasts a high-flying attack like Los Angeles FC.
Even with Carlos Vela and others dominating the headlines, Eduard Atuesta has found a way to stand out in one of the league's best midfield trios alongside Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing.
The 23-year-old Colombian faces a harder path to crack his national team side, but he is on the trajectory to at least compete for a spot in the squad if he continues to be a menacing force in front of the back four.
At the moment, Atuesta is dealing with an injury, but when he is at 100 percent, he can control the pace of a game better than most No. 6s in MLS.
If he continues on his current trajectory, Atuesta could be part of a wave of South American talent leaving North America for European clubs.
Diego Rossi, Los Angeles FC
LAFC should cherish Diego Rossi while he is still on its roster.
The 22-year-old Uruguayan was a terrific find by the LAFC front office ahead of the 2018 season.
Since coming north from Penarol, Rossi has scored at will to complement Vela's record-setting pace.
Rossi has 34 regular-season goals in 72 matches. Additionally, he was the highest scoring player at MLS is Back, finding the net seven times despite his team getting bounced in the quarterfinal round.
Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas
Paxton Pomykal will be in direct competition with Aaronson for a USMNT role for quite some time.
The FC Dallas homegrown player generated most of his interest during the 2019 campaign, in which he started 20 times. He scored two goals and notched five assists last season.
Pomykal faces a similar challenge as Aaronson as he tries to improve his physicality while upping his scoring totals.
But the one difference between him and his fellow countryman in Philadelphia is he has mostly come off the bench in 2020.
Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez, Atlanta United
Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez was supposed to follow in the same mold as Miguel Almiron, who left Atlanta United for English Premier League side Newcastle United.
Martinez has shown spurts of greatness, including his two-goal performance Saturday against Nashville SC.
Part of the issue surrounding Martinez's play in Atlanta could have been the style of play implemented by Frank de Boer, who was let go after the Five Stripes dropped out of MLS is Back in the group phase.
Through 38 regular-season contests, the former River Plate player has seven goals and 11 assists. He also had two assists in the 2019 postseason.
If he rediscovers his form over the next few months, Martinez could move back to the top of the list of potential departures.
Ezequiel Barco, Atlanta United
Ezequiel Barco falls into the same category as his teammate, Martinez, as a South American player with loads of promise who has not yet delivered on a consistent basis in Atlanta.
Barco, who has participated at the U-20 World Cup for Argentina, only has 10 goals and seven assists through 46 regular-season contests.
He started to show signs of consistent brilliance when the 2020 regular season initially opened. He started the campaign with a goal against Nashville and produced a goal and an assist versus FC Cincinnati.
Barco struggled to find attacking space at MLS is Back, and that resulted in a single shot on target over three matches.
If he revives his form in a similar vein to Martinez when he returns to the field, Barco could be one of the best attacking midfielders in MLS, which, in turn, may lead to another sell by the Five Stripes.
Gianluca Busio, Sporting Kansas City
A new wrinkle was thrown into Gianluca Busio's development in Sporting Kansas City's first game back from MLS is Back.
Busio was dropped deeper into the midfield by manager Peter Vermes, and he turned in a strong performance against Minnesota United.
If Busio excels at that role in the coming months, it could make him an intriguing prospect to teams pursuing his signature.
The drop closer to the back four could also allow him more time in the starting lineup among plenty of veterans in the Sporting KC squad.
If anything, the positional arrangement shows Busio's openness to new spots and his versatility moving forward.
Positional flexibility benefited both Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams after they moved to Europe. Davies switched from a winger to left-back at Bayern Munich, and RB Leipzig has converted Tyler Adams from defensive midfield to right-back on occasion.
James Sands, New York City FC
New York City FC's youth system has not been in place as long as others, but it has still produced some quality players.
Giovanni Reyna is gaining playing time with Borussia Dortmund, and Joe Scally will be off to Borussia Monchengladbach in January.
James Sands could be in the next player in that pipeline if he continues to develop in the back line.
Sands made 18 starts in 2019 and has appeared in seven regular-season contests in 2020. He has showed well at center-back of late, which could help accelerate the process to move on to another league.
The 20-year-old, who has featured on the youth international levels for the United States, could still be a year or two away from a move, but he has taken the necessary steps to begin moving up the ranks.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90
Statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com