The midfielder's run, with 7g/2a across 13 matches this year, has sparked some serious Landon Donovan MLS MVP buzz as well. And it’s certainly contributed to growing speculation of if he’ll be transferred to a European club this summer.
But would too much change hurt his short window for a late push onto the USMNT’s Qatar 2022 roster? Or is it a necessary move to more firmly enter manager Gregg Berhalter’s plans and make what’s likely a 26-man roster?
That was the subject of passionate debate on Extratime’s latest episode, and former USMNT and MLS forward Charlie Davies was clear on his perspective.
“The only way that Djordje Mihailovic will vault himself up this ladder is with a move to Europe,” Davies said. “If there's ever a time to make that move, it would be now because he's playing with the utmost confidence. He is fit and he'd be getting a full preseason. You have to factor in all of those things. And then he would get an opportunity because whoever is paying for him is getting him in preseason and they're obviously trusting him to be the future, the answer.”
The possibility isn’t far-fetched, as Mihailovic trained this past winter at Serie A’s Bologna, which is also under CFM owner Joey Saputo’s sporting umbrella. He’s been linked to a host of European clubs in recent months, too, some more credibly than others.
But David Gass, in light of Mihailovic's World Cup aspirations, isn’t convinced a move to Europe benefits him more than staying in MLS. He struck a timing/fit-is-everything outlook, referencing FC Dallas’ sale of USMNT striker Ricardo to Pepi to Bundesliga side Augsburg last January.
“Let's say they start me slow. They want to get my feet wet so that what happened to Ricardo Pepi doesn't happen,” Gass said. “Now it's September 20th for a November World Cup and I haven't started a game and I go from MVP frontrunner in Major League Soccer to 'I come off the bench and I try and make an impact at Bologna.'”
Of course, the World Cup isn’t the only factor Mihailovic would consider around a European move. But it’s certainly a key motivator for the Chicago Fire FC homegrown product, who has six caps and last featured for the USMNT in a December 2020 friendly vs. El Salvador.
Still, should the 23-year-old strike while the iron’s hot, if a proposed deal makes sense for the player and club? It’s an emphatic yes from Davies, who referenced how a European move benefited now-Leeds United attacker Brenden Aaronson, a Philadelphia Union homegrown product who just garnered a $30 million transfer fee from Red Bull Salzburg.
“You need to go over to test yourself,” Davies said. “Guys that it's worked for – Brenden Aaronson, would he be on the national team if he didn't go over to Salzburg? The Austrian league is not better than Major League Soccer, everyone knows that. You're not going to Salzburg for the competition within the Austrian league. You're going to, one, put yourself in the European shop window but, two, you're playing against European competition in Champions League, in Europa League. That's why you go.”
Gass also mentioned the possibility of a loan-back option to conclude the MLS season, similar to what the New England Revolution arranged last year with Canadian international Tajon Buchanan’s wintertime move to Belgium’s Club Brugge. Under that timeline, Mihailovic would likely join a European team after the World Cup concludes in December.
Transfer-centric debate aside, does Mihailovic even have a realistic chance at breaking into the USMNT’s World Cup roster? Gass said this June window, with two friendlies (vs. Morocco and Uruguay) and two Nations League games (vs. Grenada and El Salvador), will be determinative.
“To me, his best chance of earning a spot happens in the next three weeks with the US [rather] than anything that happens in this club situation,” Gass said. “If he comes and plays well in this window and he plays well in this group, now he is someone who's defending his spot versus trying to fight for a spot.”
Davies also voiced support but remained adamant that it all hinges on a move to Europe.
“I do realistically think he has a chance, for sure,” Davies said. “But I think he needs to do a little bit more. What he's doing now, as great as he is in Montréal, that's not going to be enough.”