MLS Transfers: Breaking down potential next players to go abroad

MLS (Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
MLS (Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /

Here are the potential next slate of MLS players who could go abroad

This week was a big one for MLS in terms of selling and continuing to build a reputation globally, as three of the league’s most talented young stars moved overseas. The officially announced move of Reggie Cannon this past week from FC Dallas to Europe to play for Boavista FC in Portugal’s Liga NOS is yet another move aiding the league’s international reputation as a hub for young talent.

Also in this period we’ve seen Pity Martinez impressively sold for a profit by Atlanta United to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr. Along with Houston Dynamo striker Alberth Ellis, whose move to join Cannon at Boavista looks almost complete.

Now, the great selling boom of 2018 has come and gone, and almost two years later players like Alphonso Davies, Tyler Adams, and Miguel Almiron are continuing to develop and make huge impacts for their clubs on Europe’s biggest stages.

MLS players transferring to Europe is great for the American soccer scene

But as great as it is for those players to continue to play at a high level in Europe, fans of MLS know that this trend must not only continue but increase to continue to grow the league’s reputation on the global stage. There are probably others, but here are some names who have been mentioned in moves to Europe, listed from how cold to hot their transfer rumors have been.

Eduard Atuesta

LAFC has seemed to figure out this buy low and sell high model with Atuesta being the third member of the squad on this list. The 21-year-old Colombia midfielder is often mentioned as one of the club’s brightest young stars with perhaps the most potential of what is an impressive attacking core in Los Angeles. But Atuesta has been recovering from a right foot injury suffered against Orlando City back on July 31st.

His missing presence on the field has been evident for LAFC, who appears to be struggling with consistency in their attack with two missing stars this season. I can imagine Bob Bradley and company can’t wait to have Atuesta back in the lineup but the 2019 Best IX selection who tallied 11 assists last season may only return for short period with interest from European giant Ajax reported last month.

The Dutch giants reportedly scouted Atuesta during his time training with the Colombian U-23’s and maybe a perfect replacement for currently injured Lisandro Martinez, whose own return time frame is unknown. His loss would be a big one for an LAFC club who is clearly trying to figure things out with a skeleton crew of experience taking the field lately. But his sale to one of the biggest talent developing clubs in the entire world, who really might be the gold standard for acquisition and resale of young talent globally should only be seen as a positive.

Jeremy Ebobisse

Ebobisse has been an underrated offensive weapon for the Timbers since joining the first team full-time back in 2019. Never the first option in Portland’s attack, but always finding a way to score. The 23-year-old has netted four goals with one assist in eleven appearances in 2020 so far and was a crucial part of the club’s MLS is Back Championship run.

The American centre-forward has had to prove himself to since arriving in Portland back in 2017 over more costly attacking options. But his consistency around the box has caught the eye of Belgian clubs RSC Anderlecht and Royal Antwerp as well as Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen. This seems like a perfect move for Ebobisse, as both leagues are world-renowned for developing young talent and are a prime stepping stone for young Americans.

There haven’t been any further updates regarding European interest surrounding Ebobisse, but as we have seen with transfers like Ellis or Martinez, sometimes these deals can pop up out of nowhere and be completed rather quickly.

Diego Rossi

Rossi, like his Uruguayan attacking partner, came to LAFC from Uruguay’s Primera Division side Penarol. Though the 22-year-old arrived prior to Brian Rodriguez’s record signing last summer way back in 2018 for what Business Insider reported was a $4 million fee. Since, he has become a key cog in LAFC’s attack, especially with one of Major League Soccer’s premier scorers Carlos Vela still out with an MCL injury, Rossi has blossomed.

The odd thing though is given his consistent production of late and a recent hike in value via transfermarket now sitting at $19.8 million, there haven’t been any solid rumors surrounding a move for Rossi since August of 2019. Back then it was Italian Serie A side Fiorentina with what was allegedly an $8 million offer. But given Rossi’s current form, having scored ten goals in eleven appearances for LAFC this season, clubs in Europe have to be tuned in, right?

We will just have to wait and see with plenty of time left in the English Premier League’s transfer window and other league’s yet to start across Europe. But if he decides to stick around he may become the most expensive transfer in MLS history. Especially after news of his first senior team call up for the Uruguayan men’s squad broke this past week. As we know with Brian Rodriguez, performing at a high level during international duty is an avenue to establishing great reputations and also generates interest.

Ezequiel Barco 

A couple of Atlanta United’s biggest investments haven’t necessarily panned out since arriving in MLS. A couple of the highest transfer fees in MLS, Barco like Martinez never really found a comfortable rhythm for the Five Stripe’s but may still turn a profit this transfer window, no matter how unexpectedly small that might be.

As we all know, Miguel Almiron’s $27 million transfer nearly two years ago after dominating stateside is still the gold standard and record for talent acquisition/resale in MLS to date. Atlanta may have believed they found a successful formula after Almiron moved to Premier League side Newcastle United in 2018, so they continued to invest. This time investing more money in hopes of a potentially bigger payday.

But for now, he appears to still be Atlanta’s youngest designated player. Not much else as rumors have gone a tad silent this week, after reported interest from Italian Serie A side Fiorentina to rival that of Spanish La Liga side Sevilla ran cold. He never went on to yield an unexpected four million dollar profit like that of Martinez’ move to AL-Nassr generated last week.

Barco has currently knocked in two goals to go along with one assist in six MLS matches this season. He could be the second Five Stripe’s player sold in less than a month, and given the current state of the club, a fresh start when Josef Martinez returns doesn’t sound half bad.

Brenden Aaronson 

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Aaronson is a talented prospect and began to emerge as a credible threat in Philadelphia’s midfield down in Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament.

He has continued to be an effective cog in the Union’s attack and has caught the attention of some European clubs, most notably that of RB Salzburg.

RB Salzburg is a part of the Red Bull soccer family and is a consistent juggernaut in Austria’s top division. They are also one of the premier talent developing clubs in all of Europe and continually recruit players from all around the world while selling them to top leagues throughout Europe for a profit.

Notable past players include Liverpool’s Sadio Mane & Takumi Minamino as well as Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Erling Haaland.

RB Salzburg is also coached by American and former USMNT member Jesse Marsch who is familiar with Aaronson’s work in MLS and for the USMNT. The 19-year-old midfielder has been the best player on the field several times for the Union this season and has 3 goals and 2 assists in 13 matches including the MLS is Back tournament.

Aaronson seems to be making arrangements to help the process along, as an apparent move to Wasserman, an agency that manages several high profile Americans like Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Zack Steffan, and many more. And although the current Austrian Bundesliga champions look like the front runners for his services, clubs from the German Bundesliga were mentioned to have interest in the young midfield this past summer.

Mark McKenzie 

The Union/USMNT presence is strong on this list and like Aaronson, McKenzie has potential and his sale may position Philadelphia as the new selling club in MLS. This is of course unless LAFC have something to say about it.

Developing homegrown players and taking them from Academy to Europe is no easy feat and not seen in MLS too often, but the growth of both Aaronson and McKenzie is apparent and drawing interest.

McKenzie has been a major defensive presence in Philadelphia’s backline, drawing considerable interest from Scottish giants Celtic over the past month. Generating reports that haven’t wavered into September, making a move to the Scottish Premiership a real possibility for the 21-year-old center back.

Though Celtic are not the only club mentioned having interest in McKenzie’s services as of late, with German Bundesliga sides Union Berlin, SC Freiburg and Belgian giant RSC Anderlecht being named as well. He may be one of the more down low transfers not many folks are talking about, but he will move to Europe in the mold of Tyler Adams (academy product turned star) sometime soon.

Brian Rodriguez

Rodriguez like a few others on this list was a purchase made in the shadow of the Miguel Almiron sale, with many MLS clubs hoping to find the same success with Atlanta United’s profitable formula. It’s very simple actually, buy South American talent low, sell South American talent high. But that formula hasn’t exactly been easy to duplicate for clubs around the league since. LAFC like Atlanta opted to pay what at the time was a record sale for the club, in hopes of a big payoff down the road.

Rodriguez was only purchased in last Summer’s transfer window, but it still took him nearly a full year (including some time at home during COVID-19) to score his first MLS goal. Nonetheless, teams aren’t looking at the length of Rodriguez’s acclimation period, but rather at his current production for LAFC with only one goal but aiding in six assists. A lot of Rodriguez’s hype comes due to his performances internationally for his home team Uruguay, netting three goals in six appearances for the senior team.

Rodriguez has been mentioned in connection with clubs throughout Europe, such as Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, and Napoli. Though the most recent club named with a potential offer for the 20-year-old is Serie A side Torino who were mentioned to be interested in a possible loan-to-buy deal.

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His sale or anyone’s on this list for that matter would be the league’s latest example of MLS being more than a “retirement” league, but a chance for talented South Americans to showcase their skills to the biggest leagues in Europe. Keep your fingers crossed folks.