Running from Dec. 12 to Feb. 25, this year’s offseason is the shortest in Major League Soccer history. But what it lacks in length, it has more than made up for in player movement. It’s been an incredibly active offseason for players moving in all sorts of directions, including from MLS to Europe.

As MLS continues to establish itself in the global transfer market, teams from all over Europe are becoming more familiar with young American and Canadian talent – as well as players who started their careers elsewhere and raised their profiles in MLS.

While it’s exciting to see young talent moving to new, challenging destinations, MLS is inching closer and closer to the point where the quality of outgoing transfers matters more than the quantity. Joining a team with the right environment, need, style, and level of competition really matters and directly impacts a player’s development and success.

So which young, outbound MLS players are poised for success at their new European clubs? Let’s dig in and grade some of their already completed moves, with an assist from Second Spectrum’s data.

Move details: FC Dallas to FC Augsburg for reported $20 million on Jan. 3
Move grade: B

The most expensive MLS transfer of this winter window, Ricardo Pepi’s move to Augsburg in the German Bundesliga earlier this month made waves across the American soccer-sphere.

In terms of need, Pepi certainly checked a box for Augsburg, who were 16th in the 18-team Bundesliga in xG generated per 90 minutes before he arrived. Among a host of other things, they needed a goalscorer, someone who could move off the ball and find dangerous spots in the attack. In the FC Dallas homegrown star, they got someone who is learning to do both of those things.

Pepi’s nine open-play goals in MLS last year, combined with his 0.26 open-play xG per 90 minutes, placed him near the top of the striker pool in MLS. Only four regular strikers in MLS put together more xG per 90 minutes than Pepi did last season. Still, it’s important to note that Pepi outperformed his expected goals by nearly three goals in 2021, indicating that his scoring numbers may have been inflated last year.

Regardless of the gap between his goal tally and his xG, Pepi will get plenty of opportunities to develop and refine his on-field play in the Bundesliga. The immediate challenge for Pepi is trying to find his way in the midst of Augsburg’s lackluster attacking style without much possession or attacking chances. The rest of the 2021-22 season may not be especially pretty for Pepi and Augsburg as they fight to move outside of the relegation zone in the Bundesliga, but the 19-year-old US men’s national team starter has an undeniable chance to make an impact in Germany.

Move details: Orlando City SC to West Bromwich Albion for reported $9.5 million fee on Jan. 1
Move grade: B+

It’s like déjà vu, really.

After a successful stint with Barnsley in the English Championship during the second half of the 2020-21 season, Daryl Dike is back in the Championship for the second half of the 2021-22 season from Orlando City. Dike’s old Barnsley manager (and sky-ball expert) Valerien Ismael is still up to his old long-ball tricks at West Brom – and the familiarity between coach and player almost certainly played a part in Dike’s move back to England.

Tactically, we already know that Dike can be an effective striker in Ismael’s hyper-direct, vertical style. With his big frame, Dike can win the ball in the air and is extremely active with his off-ball movement. In 2021, the 21-year-old finished in the 93rd percentile among strikers in MLS with his aerial win percentage and in the 90th percentile among all players with his 20.3 off-ball runs per game.

The jury is still out on whether Dike can generate quality, consistent shooting opportunities, but if my offensive tactical approach is built around playing long balls into the forward line, Dike is the kind of No. 9 that I want leading that forward line. While Dike will miss the next eight weeks after suffering a hamstring injury against Peterborough United, he looks like a good fit for West Brom’s tactical style.

I do wonder if the large difference in tactics between West Brom’s and the USMNT will have a negative effect on Dike’s chances with the national team. Or maybe the two different styles will help emphasize some of the qualities in Dike’s game that make him a unique presence in the Yanks’ player pool. I’m not sure, but we’ll find out as 2022 progresses.

Move details: New York City FC to Rangers FC, 18-month loan with purchase option on Jan. 5
Move grade: B

Becoming NYCFC’s first-ever homegrown signing? Check. CCL minutes? Check. USMNT appearances? Check. MLS Cup? Check.

James Sands, 21, has accomplished a lot in his young career. Though NYCFC clearly have ambitions to keep high-quality players and to compete at the top of both MLS and Concacaf, the timing felt right for Sands to make his move to Europe after helping the Cityzens lift their first MLS Cup in December.

Now, Rangers in Scotland is a somewhat curious destination for Sands.

The Scottish Premiership is arguably a step down in quality from MLS; according to Football League Rankings, Scotland’s top division is 19th in the world in terms of quality, down five spots from MLS. Despite the drop in league-wide quality, Rangers are undoubtedly a hugely successful club. 538 ranks Rangers as the 66th best club team in the world, above every MLS team, just a couple of spots down from the Premier League’s Leeds United, and just a handful of spots ahead of the Bundesliga’s Wolfsburg. Many of their league games won’t be competitive for Sands and Rangers, but their Europa League campaign will provide some strong opponents. They face fellow NYCFC academy product Gio Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund in mid-February.

With his defensive vision and year-over-year improvement in his passing game, Sands has the tools to contribute to Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s central midfield group. There’s little doubt about that. But will Rangers’ environment really help Sands develop and improve, even with a lack of truly competitive games? We’re not betting against Sands, and the weekly pressure and intensity will surely benefit him.

Move details: Colorado Rapids to Feyenoord Rotterdam, 18-month loan with purchase option on Jan. 20
Move grade: A

Feyenoord may not get as much publicity here in the United States as Ajax and PSV, but they're a big, big club in the Netherlands. Currently third in the Eredivisie behind those two aforementioned teams, Feyenoord are firmly among the top Dutch clubs.

Once he settles in, Cole Bassett will add some special qualities to Feyenoord’s central midfield group. Among midfielders in MLS last season, Bassett’s 0.19 expected goals per 90 minutes put him in the 92nd percentile. He can drive the ball forward out of midfield and create danger in and around the box – or he can crash into the box and arrive late to finish off an attack. That’s exactly what happened on Bassett’s first goal from the 2021 campaign:

Bassett’s active off-ball movement makes him an appealing option to move up and down the central channel of the field and the halfspaces for Feyenoord. The 20-year-old’s 15.2 runs per game last season placed him in the 92nd percentile among midfielders in MLS. Defensively, Bassett is not afraid to enter the fray and apply pressure on the opposition – his 48.8 pressures per 90 minutes landed him in the 97th percentile among midfielders in terms of pressing frequency.

Bassett isn’t much of a chance-creator at this point in his career, but the Colorado homegrown’s effort off the ball and his defensive work-rate make him a valuable midfield presence. To me, Feyenoord feels like a great place for Bassett to better himself and compete in a high-pressure environment.

Could Bassett find success similar to when now-Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley moved to the Eredivisie’s Heerenveen, back in 2006? Don’t be surprised if he comes somewhere close.

Move details: FC Dallas to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 18-month loan with purchase option on Jan. 21
Move grade: A

For an 18-year-old, Justin Che has experienced a busy last couple of years. After playing for North Texas SC in USL League One in 2020, Che signed a homegrown deal with FC Dallas and then moved to Bayern Munich on loan, playing with their reserves. Then, after the end of the 3. Liga season, Che moved back to the United States to play under then-head coach Luchi Gonzalez at FCD.

Now, Che is headed back to Germany’s Bundesliga. This time, he’ll be playing for Hoffenheim in the top-flight. Given that Hoffenheim are currently seventh in the league and are pushing for a Champions League or Europa League spot, Che may face an uphill climb for game action over the next five months. Still, training in Hoffenheim’s system under manager Sebastian Hoeneß should be a useful experience for Che.

When you watch Che, you can see his talent almost immediately. He oozes technical quality on the ball and can help his team play out of the back in high-pressure situations. Few defenders in MLS last year could rival Che’s combination of speed and on-ball ability.

Whether he plays as a right back or a center back (that’s my preferred spot for him), there is room for Che to improve his defending in space and his consistency in possession.

There won’t be an immediate return on this move for Hoffenheim, but it seems entirely possible that Che will really improve his game over the next 18 months and have some Chris Richards-style success in Germany. Richards, of course, is a fellow FCD product and rising USMNT defender who’s on loan at Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich.

Move details: New England Revolution to Club Brugge for reported $7 million fee on Aug. 24 (left in winter)
Move grade: A

Out of all the MLS exports in this winter transfer window, Tajon Buchanan may be the most entertaining player to watch. He’s, uh, quite fast – Buchanan was the fourth-fastest player in MLS last year, according to Second Spectrum. He dribbles a ton – only 12 players attempted more dribbles last year than Buchanan. And he loves to attack vertically – the Canadian international’s average forward distance per touch placed him in the 97th percentile among MLS players in 2021.

Like I said, Buchanan is fun.

More important than being fun, at least from Club Brugge's perceptive, is helping them earn points. So far in his two appearances in the Belgian Pro League, Buchanan has done exactly that. Brugge won 2-0 in Buchanan’s first start and followed those three points up with a 2-2 draw, where Buchanan had the assist on Brugge’s equalizer in the 59th minute.

Buchanan’s ability to create danger on the right side of the field is exactly why you want him in your team … and that’s exactly what Brugge got from him on that assist against Standard de Liège.

Expect Buchanan to have a real impact on Brugge during the rest of this season, either as a wingback or in a slightly narrower, more advanced position. And after a year or so, don’t be surprised if he takes another leap to a bigger team at club level. The Revs would benefit there, as they retain a percentage of Buchanan’s future sell-on rights.