Another year is set to pass, which means it's once again time to reminisce over the finest exploits of players who came up with Major League Soccer clubs and/or their academies before moving on to foreign leagues.
The number and quality of MLS products making headlines abroad has been on a steady rise in recent years, and that brotherhood put together a fine year full of memorable highlights. As you'd expect, sorting through such a large stack of moments to pick my favorites was no easy feat. There was no set formula for choosing and ranking these, but a measure of priority was given to incidents of some significance.
Naturally, we'll get you started with a few honorable mentions: Christian Cappis' 86th minute winner against Vejle BK, Alphonso Davies helping Bayern Munich shut out Tigres in the FIFA World Club Cup final, Ian Harkes' late derby winner against Dundee, Harkes bagging a clever late winner against Aberdeen and Joe Scally's barnstorming first goal for Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Venezia were all set to lose for the fifth time in their first seven games of the season when Gianluca Busio played stoppage-time hero to rescue a 1-1 share with his first Serie A strike. The former Sporting Kansas City homegrown standout found the soft spot in the defense, made good contact and got a bit of fortune on the way to the back of Cagliari's net.
Sure, Dejan Kulusevski's shot was the fancy part of the move that got Juventus rolling toward the Coppa Italia medal stand. But credit where it's due, it was FC Dallas academy alum Weston McKennie (who actually had much more impact defensively in this final) that teed him up by executing the simple play.
The former NYCFC academy product hadn't scored in over four months and fifth-place Borussia Dortmund were trying to pull out of a mini-slide when they hosted Werder Bremen in mid-April. Things got a little nervy around Signal Iduna Park when the visitors took an early lead, but Giovanni Reyna turned the tide for BvB with a sinister long-range blast.
Dortmund ended up winning 4-1 that day, and they'd go on to win the last seven games on their schedule to secure a Champions League berth and the DfB-Pokal crown.
Most of the events that make this annual list are fairly predictable. For example, great goal-scorers do score some great and/or important goals, so it makes sense they'd make memories worth reliving. Conversely, this entry practically came out of nowhere. It came just nine days into the year, and just five games into Matthew Hoppe's first-team career.
The youngster, who once plied his trade in the LA Galaxy academy, didn't stop at scoring his first Bundesliga goal against visiting Hoffenheim, no no. He bagged a hatty with a trio of tidy finishes to give floundering Schalke their first win of the season, and USMNT fans a new boy wonder to plug into their depth charts.
Of course, Daryl Dike's hot hand loan spell with Championship side Barnsley (nine goals in 13 games at one point) can't be considered a moment. But the incident that really got UK tongues wagging over the Orlando City SC striker can be encapsulated in his second strike from a March win over Wycombe Wanderers. Despite moving away from goal at an angle, the US international fired a laser into the top corner from outside the box, causing Tykes supporters and English soccer Twitter at large to go berserk.
This was actually Cyle Larin's second four-goal game of the 2020-21 season. In the end, Besiktas needed each and every tally from the Canada striker in a 7-0 late-season rout of Hatayspor, as they'd take the league title by a single goal in differential. What's more, on this day the former MLS Rookie of the Year out of Orlando joined Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey as the only MLS products to surpass the 20-goal mark in a single European club campaign.
I'm not going to lie. The fact a horrible gaffe from the Club America defender put this moment on a silver platter for Monterrey hit man Rogelio Funes Mori, another product of FC Dallas' fertile academy, may have hurt its ranking in the list. That said, there's certainly no need to sneeze at any lone goal decider in a Concacaf Champions League final.
Red Bull Salzburg are currently preparing for the first Champions League knockout tie in club history, and there's a really good chance this would not have happened if Brenden Aaronson didn't take over their playoff round tie against Brondby. The former Philly Union attacker came on at halftime of the home leg to turn it right around, setting up the equalizer before firing the last-minute winner.
The rising USMNT talent wasn't done, though. Aaronson made sure the Danish champs would not get up off the mat by hitting for the stand-up winner in Salzburg's second-leg victory.
So what if Zack Steffen only had to make one save in backstopping Manchester City to their fourth straight EFL Cup final victory? For one thing, that save by the former Columbus Crew standout was a big one that came with the game still scoreless. For another, shutting out Spurs 1-0 to become the fifth MLS product to start and domestic cup final win in England and the first to do so in Europe since Troy Perkins raised Norway's NM Cup in 2008 is plenty cool enough.
This is not the typical cheat pick where I lump two related players or things together so I can cram 11 worthy choices into a top 10-er. No, this time I'm packaging the 2021 accomplishments of all the MLS exports together. That's because, this year, league products dealt in volume and their haul was unprecedented.
Players who got their pro starts in Major League Soccer combined to score over 100 goals. Seven celebrated league crowns, seven hoisted domestic cups, and four (including then-Red Bull Salzburg boss Jesse Marsch) were domestic double winners. With Funes Mori's Champions League title as the cherry on top, that makes 15 total winners medals among the bunch. Each of the numbers in this paragraph represents a new collective single-season standard for MLS exports.
We've all always wanted MLS to produce players who play in important games and make important contributions to winning name-brand clubs in ritzy leagues. In 2021, we got what we always wanted in spades.