Orlando City SC, somewhat quietly, made a key late-season addition last week, acquiring US men’s national team forward Nicholas Gioacchini from French second-division side Caen on a free transfer.

The 22-year-old Kansas City native joined through the 2024 season with a club option for 2025, having spent last season on loan at Ligue 1 club Montpellier, where he found starting minutes hard to come by. Gioacchini had initially gone overseas to join now-second division side Paris FC in 2015 as a teenager, progressing up their ranks.

While leaving Europe for MLS may draw ire in some corners of USMNT fandom, Luiz Muzzi, Orlando’s EVP of soccer operations and general manager, feels it’s a move that others should consider when deciding their career path.

“I honestly think a lot of the young guys – there are so many good players, American players who end up going to Europe when they're not ready to go. Then they get lost in the shuffle,” the executive told MLSsoccer.com.

“It's something every young player in America should be thinking about and analyzing because sometimes you want to go to the top of the ladder and skip steps. Then when you fall it's a much bigger fall. If you just take your steps as you should, you're going to reach the top.

“I think MLS has proven, time and time again, that this is a great league and you play a great quality of soccer here. All the Eurosnobs out there, this is a great league. You don't know what you're talking about.”

USMNT chances

Muzzi’s comments came after Gioacchini debuted Wednesday night for Orlando City, appearing in the last five minutes (plus stoppage time) of their 5-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup semifinals. That result earned the Lions hosting rights for the Sept. 7 final against upset-driven USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC, where both a trophy and a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot will be on the line.

As Gioacchini works towards an increased role and minutes, Muzzi is confident his USMNT case will only improve. The versatile forward has three goals in eight caps, helping the Yanks secure the 2021 Gold Cup title, though didn’t appear in any World Cup qualifiers as a Qatar 2022 spot was booked.

"It's one of those where we've got a great player that maybe was not getting the proper attention abroad for whatever reason,” Muzzi said. “And he gets a chance to get closer to the national team, to the eyes of Gregg [Berhalter] and his staff. Niko is a really exciting young player and he needs to have more chances to show his game. … I think he'll bring a lot to us and we're able to bring a lot to him as well.”

Muzzi drew parallels between Gioacchini and USMNT defender Shaq Moore both joining MLS during the summer transfer window after the latter recently left Spanish second-division side CD Tenerife to bolster Nashville SC’s backline. Moore, who’s earned 15 caps, appeared in four World Cup qualifiers and is pushing to make Berhalter’s 26-man roster for this fall’s tournament in a crowded right-back group.

“Shaq went all the way to the third division with such a fire, such a great character,” Muzzi said of the Georgia native and one-time FC Dallas academy player. “But then he realizes, hey this is a great league and I got a chance here to be closer to home and be seen and play important games. It's the same for Niko and for some other guys as well.”

Gioacchini USMNT
Nicholas Gioacchini debuted for the USMNT in November 2020 against Wales.

Berhalter's perspective

The remarks occur as Berhalter has questioned some young American players perhaps leaving before they’ve “been dominant in Major League Soccer,” pointing to homegrown exports like Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas to AS Roma), George Bello (Atlanta United to Arminia Bielefeld) and Kevin Paredes (D.C. United to Wolfsburg) after they garnered transfer fees that push a reported combined $18 million.

While the former went to Italy’s Serie A and the latter pair went to the German Bundesliga – and Gioacchini wasn’t in MLS before now – the former Columbus Crew coach expressed hesitation those were always the right choices.

“What happens is then they don’t get enough playing time, they may not make it there,” Berhalter recently said in a Futbol Americas interview on ESPN+. “I’m always a big fan of you crush the level where you're at and then you keep going and then you go to the next level. You always find a level that you can play and you can build up your performances.”

Berhalter, in the same interview, said someone like USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner was “ready to move on” to Arsenal after doing “everything he could do” with the New England Revolution. Turner departed for the English Premier League powerhouse in late June for a reported $6 million transfer fee upfront that grow to $10 million with add-ons.

But especially with young players, Berhalter said it’s vital they’re entering a club environment where first-team minutes are attainable and their development doesn’t stagnate.

“Where are they going to get game time? Because I don't believe it’s good for a player to go to Europe and train for two years,” Berhalter said. “ … There’s a progression that needs to take place and that’s part of it, game time.”

Revamped attack

As those debates unfold, Gioacchini won’t need to be the guy for Orlando off the jump. He joins a remade offense that brought in Uruguayan winger Facundo Torres and Austrian striker Ercan Kara as Designated Players during the offseason, while Argentine winger Gaston Gonzalez is a U22 Initiative player who’s out for the year after suffering an ACL tear just before his move was completed.

But Gioacchini should still be an important piece under head coach Oscar Pareja, whose group is seeking a third-straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trip and, via the Open Cup, can join Vancouver Whitecaps FC in next year’s CCL. Vancouver qualifies after they won the Canadian Championship in penalties on Tuesday over Toronto FC.

Gioacchini, during the busy last two-plus months of the regular season, is loading up for what awaits.

“We're playing a game every three days, so if you have only two or three guys you're in trouble,” Muzzi said. “You're going to need everybody to play and contribute and be ready.

“When you have a guy of that quality that you can get for a salary-cap number that makes sense and a deal that makes sense, we're helping ourselves, we're helping him as well. You're right, everybody needs to play and contribute if you're going to be successful on the fronts as we want to.”