The mainstream fall-to-spring soccer season has all but wrapped up over in Europe, which means it's about time to reflect on what has truly been a memorable campaign for players who came out of MLS clubs and academies before hopping the pond.
It has been a big season for Major League Soccer exports, who were busy scoring goals and collecting trophies right up to the end of the campaign. A wide range of MLS products have enjoyed fruitful campaigns, led by a handful that shined brightest. Among those, one choice stood out from the heavy competition.
Before we get started, let's get it out of the way: the nearest miss to this list was Bayern Munich left back Alphonso Davies. It almost seems crazy to leave the repeat Bundesliga champ just outside the top 5 and some may question my sanity, but his play/impact did fall off a shade from historic 2019-20 term. Along with the Canada star, we have several other honorable mentions with their own brand of impact: Tyler Adams, Matthew Hoppe, Zack Steffen, Timothy Weah and Haji Wright.
The Philly Union transplant fit seamlessly into Austria's double-winning giant in no time. Playing as what he describes as a "left No. 10", Aaronson earned a starting role a few weeks into his Red Bull Salzburg tenure. Then he pulled more than his xW (that's expected weight, of course) by ringing up seven goals and five assists in 25 games across all competitions to earn those two quick champions medals.
The 20-year-old was no timid passenger, just another rabid playmaker boss/fellow MLS product Jesse Marsch sicced on the league every week. Aaronson even scored in the Austrian Cup final win (as seen in the clip above) and got his first Europa League taste to top the cake. Not bad for four months on the job.
Betcha didn't see that coming. After struggling to break through to the Besiktas lineup during the first three seasons of his deal, Larin was a 23-goal monster for a domestic double winner this time around.
The Canada striker helped the Black Eagles wear the first Süper Lig crown for the first time in four years and he hit three winners along the path to their first Turkish Cup triumph in a decade. The former Orlando City ace was clever as you'd like around the box all season, making capitalistic goals look easy (be sure to check out the finish at the 1:39 mark).
It didn't take long at all for the Barnsley faithful to warm up to the big guy, and in return he gave back nine goals inside a two-month span. In the end, Dike was a transformative figure despite arriving at midseason.
When he landed on loan from Orlando City, the Tykes were a game under break even at 10-11-6. With the power forward up top down the back stretch, they went 13-3-3 to pull a promotion playoff berth out of the hat. If he'd fired them to the Premier League, the locals would have been clamoring for a statue.
You see a season ledger with seven often-spectacular goals and eight nifty assists and eight encouraging Champions League outings as second wing fiddle to Jaden Sancho on a Champions League return-clinching, DfB-Pokal winning Borussia Dortmund, and the inner Larry David comes out. That's pretty, pretty, pretty good.
And then, oh, you remember that Reyna is 18 years old. Then the inner Michael Jackson eating theater popcorn in giddy anticipation GIF comes out. It's going to be fun watching the New York City FC academy product's career unfold, folks.
Quick show of hands, how many of you out there thought the FA Dallas academy alum could — or at least believed he would — waltz straight into a prominent role at Juventus? Despite being in a new league with a club boasting a ridiculously deep midfield stable, McKennie did just that. And he kept that role all season long, starting 30 of his 45 matches across all competitions.
The 22-year-old became the first American to win Coppa Italia, scored a Champions League dazzler at Barcelona and generally rewarded Andrea Pirlo's early trust with 2,369 minutes of heady two-way play. Most importantly, he learned how to find the game instead of waiting for it to find him. In Serie A. On the first try. Well played, sir.