All the major European leagues have either just kicked off a new campaign or are about to, which makes this a perfect time to set the scene for all the MLS exports worth watching from afar during the 2021-22 season.
Weah This time we're sticking to players who truly started out in an MLS youth academy, which is why you won't see those who played college ball (such as Cyle Larin and Jack Harrison) or international stars who jumped on the MLS springboard (such as Miguel Almiron and Alberth Elis). It's also worth noting that Zack Steffen (Philadelphia Union) and Tim Weah (New York Red Bulls) spent time in MLS academies, though their ledgers are a bit more complicated.
But the flow of thrilling young talent to Europe has increased so quickly in recent years, so we faced no trouble in producing a watch list full of compelling players with exciting challenges directly ahead.
There are so many MLS exports worth watching overseas, I couldn't resist sneaking in a few young honorable mentions with big questions to answer this term:
- Kobe Hernandez-Foster – Can Wolfsburg's teen left back parlay a preseason spent with the first team into playing time?
- Bryang Kayo – Can the midfielder prove his value to Wolfsburg on loan to third flight Viktoria Berlin?
- Richie Ledezma – How soon, and how strong, will the PSV Eindhoven playmaking prospect return from January knee surgery?
- Dante Sealy – Will the recent PSV Eindhoven loanee make good on his spell away from FC Dallas?
Let’s get underway, with players sorted in alphabetical order.
The Jesse Marsch safety net is gone and he's in a new role, but the Red Bull Salzburg raider is taking it all in stride. New manager Matthias Jaissle (who's young enough to be a teammate) has Aaronson running maneuvers directly behind twin strikers and the champs have strolled to a 3-0 start. The club also begins a big Champions League playoff round tie against Bröndby next week.
All in all, the former Philly Union midfielder looks primed to pile up more goals, assists, adventures and trophies. If that stuff happens, transfer interest from bigger leagues will surely follow.
With Marsch now in charge at RB Leipzig, expect the 22-year-old to find a steady home back in defensive midfield this season. The new head coach (to the team, but of course not to Adams) had the US men's national team standout next to veteran Kevin Kampl at the base of their 4-2-3-1 for last week's DfB-Pokal cruise past Sandhausen, and that's probably how the line-up card will look for now.
The club dropped a lot of cash on backline reinforcements this summer, so they're certainly plotting to break the Bayern Munich monopoly at the top of the table. Of course, the Champions League group stage will also call again in September, and the way they were bounced by Liverpool in last year's Round of 16 seems to have put a continental chip on everyone's shoulders at that other Red Bull Arena.
Recent pond-jumping crops have taught never to assume players won't quickly earn regular roles. Busio does need to inject some dark art into his defensive game and become a little more selective on the ball, but joining a Serie A side is like higher education for both.
If the 19-year-old midfielder freshly plucked from Sporting Kansas City remains a quick study abroad, he'll see the pitch plenty. New employers Venezia (who were just promoted after 19 years in the second flight and would do very well to avoid the drop back down) have wide open jobs in the three midfield spots.
Pardon my Brit-ism, but the USMNT right back truly is in quite the sticky wicket. Current club Boavista are in hot water for not paying transfer fees on time (including Cannon's owed to FC Dallas), so they're temporarily not allowed to register new players. As much as Cannon would like to move on (he's been linked to the likes of Anderlecht, Freiburg and Spezia in recent months), the team would have only 16 players able to play league games (and half of those are completely green academy teens).
Cannon will probably move on to a better situation this season... but who knows how long before Boavista can literally afford to let him go? From an on-field standpoint, the 23-year-old will aim to improve on a decent but somewhat spotty first season in Europe.
Following an ankle injury that kept him out of this summer’s Gold Cup, Davies missed most of Bayern Munich's preseason. The left back only resumed light training on the side last week, but on Thursday new boss Julian Nagelsmann announced that the Canada star would be available for selection for Friday's league opener against Borussia Moenchengladbach.
As for on-field matters, both Davies and Bayern regressed slightly from their treble run in 2019-20 last season, only to find top gear again down the home stretch to celebrate a Bundesliga-record ninth straight title. One would assume both player and club will aim for a more consistently domineering effort this term.
This is a big season for the 21-year-old, who will enter the final year of his Sint-Truiden deal at the end of it. Durkin has been a fairly regular starter since the tail end of 2019, and he's done a serviceable job considering the shifting roles one gets from having four different managers inside two years.
New boss Bernd Hollerbach tinkers with his 5-4-1 set a lot, so sometimes the D.C. United product will guard the gate by himself and sometimes he'll have a partner. Either way, Durkin needs to shine brighter to earn a move up the soccer food chain from a Belgian league middler. He's solidly off the blocks, having played every minute of the team's 1-1-1 start to the season.
As outstanding as the USMNT midfielder's debut Juventus campaign was, his new boss wants even more from the 22-year-old this season. Massimiliano Allegri (who steps in for Andrea Pirlo) has made it know that he's taking the attack leash off of McKennie, and declared that he expects the blooming youngster to hit double-digit goals as a result.
Any extra goals should come in handy for a Bianconeri side that saw the Serie A title wrestled away for the first time since 2012. They also haven't been past the Champions League quarterfinals in five years, so there's a lot on the locker room to-do list in northwest Turin.
From a personal standpoint, mission nummer een for the Genk man is to nail down a starting role. McKenzie is already in the rotation 20 games into his Jupiler League career, starting about half his appearances. Now he'll try to stop the rotating at the left center back slot he covets.
The former Philadelphia Union defender has had some good days and some bad days in Belgium up until now, so finding consistency in his decision-making will be the key to progress. With another title chase, a Belgian Cup defense and the Europa League group stage to contend with, Genk are looking for a new backline marshal to emerge.
Right now, the only thing to watch regarding Miazga is to see where he'll end up playing. He got 10 minutes in Chelsea's preseason friendly last week, but don't bet on him sticking around too long. The USMNT center back spoke of having interest last month, but nothing has materialized as of yet. One would think a Championship or Eredivisie side might step up, given his solid track records in those leagues.
Speaking of guys waiting to find out which shirt they'll wear this season, Sporting KC product Palmer-Brown has reputedly been close to finalizing another loan move away from Manchester City for a couple of weeks now. If (when?) it goes through, the 24-year-old defender will join a growing American contingent at Venezia. As Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part.
If Reyna's showing in a comfy friendly defeat of Bologna earlier this month is any indication, we have another exciting season on deck of watching the USMNT prodigy hurtle toward stardom by teeing up Borussia Dortmund teammate Erling Haaland left, right and center.
Reyna assisted on five of the Norwegian sniper's goals last term, and with a full Bundesliga campaign now under his belt and minutes competitor Jaden Sancho off to Manchester United, it should not be out of the realm to hope for double that amount (assuming Haaland sticks around, of course). As always, the club will try to knock Bayern Munich off the throne, as well as aiming to improve on last year's quarterfinal run in the Champions League.
The latest report out of Italy claims that AS Roma have rejected loan offers for Reynolds from Venezia, a promoted EPL side and a couple of Belgian clubs. Apparently, new manager Jose Mourinho is very high on the FC Dallas product and wants him on hand. Though Reynolds has received a few preseason starts thus far, he'll likely be a depth option to start the season.
As much as he may have impressed The Special One, the 20-year-old right back has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball to reach Serie A levels. The Giallorossi's campaign opens with a Europa Conference League playoff round trip to Trabzonspor this coming Thursday.
Here's another player whose club status is up in the air. Richards has taken part in Bayern Munich's preseason prep, even if it always seemed like the defender was ripe for another loan spell somewhere. Hoffenheim would love to have him back, and Leicester City are also now being linked with a loan swoop for the 21-year-old. German fish wrapper SportBild even claimed that Nagelsmann is willing to sell the backline talent for €10 million (about $11.75 million), which most locals seem to have waved away as silly hogwash.
Of course, now the Bavarians will be without right back Benjamin Pavard for "several weeks" — does that mean Richards could end up staying in Munich this season? It's all a guessing game at this time. That mess aside, Richards will simply want a place to get minutes in order to continue the solid development after last season's Hoffenheim loan stint.
The 18-year-old fullback is making fast inroads at Borussia Moenchengladbach. With just 15 reserve team games in the German fourth flight under his belt, Scally admirably went the distance at left back in the Foal's campaign opener, a 1-0 DfB-Pokal win over Kaiserslautern.
With a strong vet like Stefan Lainer occupying right back and left back Ramy Bensebaini currently out with a hamstring ailment, the NYCFC product's most immediate future may be on the port side. We'll get a big clue on how much new boss Adi Huetter intends to play the youngster when the lineup comes out for Friday's Bundesliga opener against Bayern Munich.
Because of his physical nature in midfield and ability to move the ball along safely, it's very easy to imagine the FC Dallas transplant having relatively fast success in Serie A. That his first chance comes with a promoted Venezia outfit that bargain shops could be a valuable learning experience (read: tough relegation struggle).
As noted above, central park jobs are up for grabs at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo. Claim one and, well, a chance to play survival hero could be on the table. I hear that comes with a song.
The 25-year-old has come a long way from his days as Seattle Sounders winger, both literally and figuratively. Wingo is now the ink starter at right back for Hungarian kings Ferencvaros, which means he's currently preparing to battle for a return ticket to the Champions League group stage against Jordan Siebatcheu's Young Boys. It should be a fun year in Budapest, even if they get relegated to the Europa League group phase by a playoff round loss.
Just a week after the 22-year-old came over from Colorado, Royal Antwerp manager Brian Priske has proclaimed him fit for selection ahead of Friday's Jupiler League clash at Charleroi. Make no mistake about it: On a team that spent most of their offseason transfer kitty on the attack, Vines has been brought in to hold down left back.
Antwerp's backline can definitely use the help; they've started the season 1-2-0 despite topping the league in goals scored through three rounds. It can only help Vines' development that he'll get to play next to wily vet Ritchie De Laet, who was a member of Leicester's City's shock Premier League winners a few years back.
WARNING: This entry involves taking notoriously imaginative Turkish tabloid articles with a pound of salt. So anyway, recent reports out of Istanbul have claimed that 1) Galatasaray are unhappy with Yedlin's performances, 2) two MLS teams have made approaches over the former Sounders homegrown ace & 3) the USMNT right back isn't really interested in leaving the Lions at this time. Some of this seems rather odd (surprise!).
Yedlin only arrived in January and the team has definitely fared better with him on the field. He also returned from COVID protocol to work all 90 in the home leg of their Champions League qualifying tie against PSV Eindhoven (otherwise known as the leg where Gala weren't blasted to 5-1 smithereens). Then again, the club did pick up a young French right back talent a couple of weeks ago and he supplanted Yedlin in their latest Europa League qualifying tie, so I won't pretend to know what will happen here. If he stays at the Ali Sami Yen, I can promise one thing: Winning the league is always the expectation.