22 Under 22

Transfer outlook: How many 22 Under 22 players could move abroad?


Every year, the 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list is raided by clubs abroad. This trend has only grown stronger as the league evolves and the influx of young talent – both acquired from abroad and developed in MLS academies – proliferates.

Last year at this time I wrote about most lists having at least six or so players gone already, then I looked at who could be next. I may have undersold it.

Eight of last year’s top 11 in 22 Under 22 have already transferred abroad. The top three (Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike and James Sands) all went in the winter. All in all, 10 of last year’s 22 have already transferred abroad within the last 12 months, and an 11th (David Ochoa) has changed teams in MLS.

It’s not a matter of if any of this year’s 22 will be transferred, but how many? Let’s dive through the latest on guys who might make the move over the next two windows. This year’s crop isn’t as ripe as last year in terms of obvious transfers, so I’d set the over/under at 2.5 (not including Gaga Slonina) for the next 12 months.

Quickly, on a couple of guys I’m not going deeper on:

Jesus Ferreira just signed a new Young Designated Player contract in the winter. While he’s very likely to end up in Europe via a lucrative transfer one day, I’m not sure that day is this year. A big World Cup with the United States could retrieve an offer FC Dallas can’t refuse, though.

Alan Velasco is a big talent with a bright future, but he just signed with FC Dallas last winter. Same with Orlando City’s Cesar Araujo.

Efrain Alvarez is reportedly unhappy with his role with the LA Galaxy. Maybe a Liga MX club makes a move this winter.

Already gone

Chicago Fire wonderkid goalkeeper Gaga Slonina had a big year. He started it as an undisputed starting goalkeeper for a top-flight club as a 17-year-old. That is extremely rare in the world. At the same time, the USMNT and Poland were vying for his international future as clubs from England and elsewhere vied for his club future, including in the winter window.

A transfer saga that saw superclubs Real Madrid and Chelsea (among others) try to sign him ended with Slonina heading to London in the winter in a deal with Chelsea that could reach $15 million. He could be one of the most expensive teenage goalkeepers… ever.

The 18-year-old has picked up 12 clean sheets (with two more games to go) for the Fire, despite the team languishing below the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line for much of the season. They have conceded the fourth-fewest goals of the 14 teams currently below the playoff line.

Slonina is likely to go out on loan from Chelsea for playing time either this winter after he arrives or in the summer ahead of the 2023-24 European season starting.

How long is Thiago Almada for MLS?

Not long, I’d say. Because he might even make Argentina’s World Cup squad, he gets his own category here.

Almada is clearly a player destined for a big-money move to Europe before long. But is this winter too soon? What about next summer? Will he even complete two seasons in MLS? I’m not sure he will.

The 21-year-old has gotten better as the season goes on for Atlanta, with 6g/11a in 2,200 minutes. He was at the Olympics with Argentina last year and is now in the final pre-World Cup camp with the senior national team, looking to make his debut and force his way onto the World Cup roster alongside Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala and other superstars.

Almada is the most-expensive inbound transfer in MLS history at $16 million. If the next few months go a certain way, he could challenge the most-expensive outbound transfer record of $27 million (Miguel Almiron from Atlanta to Newcastle).

Transfer bids already arrived

CF Montréal midfielder and Canadian international Ismael Koné has twice neared transfers to England’s second tier. Earlier this summer, he was reportedly in advanced talks with Norwich City over a potential $6 million move and then was excused from training at the end of August as a potential move to Sheffield United was coming together on deadline day.

Of course, neither Championship move came off. And Koné remains at Montréal for the playoffs and then is likely to be named to Canada’s World Cup squad this November.

Given the bids, reasonable price, ostensibly numerous clubs’ interest and likely place at the World Cup, Koné may be the most likely player on this year’s 22 Under 22 to be transferred in the winter.

Koné, 20, has 2g/4a in 24 appearances during his first season in Montréal’s first team.

The San Jose Earthquakes rejected a bid from Ligue 1 club Reims this summer, while other clubs have the 18-year-old homegrown winger on their radar. Last February, Cowell signed a contract extension making him a U22 Initiative player.

Cowell hasn’t quite taken The Leap this year, but still has 2g/5a in 28 appearances (14 starts) for the Quakes. He figures to continue to have a big role in the first team under incoming head coach Luchi Gonzalez… if he remains in San Jose by opening day next season.

The dynamic winger has already made 78 MLS appearances and has been a constant at various US youth national team levels, plus has one senior-squad cap.

Interest abound

At the end of the summer transfer window, FC Barcelona looked into the possibility of adding Julián Araujo as a backup fullback. He wasn’t their top choice and a move never came through nor got particularly close.

Araujo, who turned 21 last month, has long been linked with interest from Club America and other Liga MX teams, but has been public in his desire to go to Europe one day. The Mexico international is in his third season as the unquestioned starting right back for the LA Galaxy.

John Tolkin is also a fullback with plenty of time as the unquestioned starter, wrapping up his second season as the first-choice left back for the New York Red Bulls.

Tolkin’s qualities will export very well to any high pressing/transition team in Europe (hence why RB Salzburg previously were interested in him) and seems a good bet to be transferred from RBNY sooner rather than later.

The 20-year-old has already made 51 starts in MLS.

Moving to a few of the younger entrants on this year’s 22 Under 22 rankings, Paxten Aaronson is viewed as one of the biggest talents in MLS. And that’s not just because his brother is currently thriving with Leeds United and the USMNT.

Paxten, who just turned 19, is a different player than Brenden, more technical and creative than the elite pressing midfielder his older brother is. Scouts in Europe have long been on his trail, while RB Salzburg, Bundesliga clubs and others remain firmly interested in the player. In Philly this year, he has been blocked from regular playing time by MVP candidate Daniel Gazdag.

Time will tell how long it takes for a deal to be agreed upon, but Paxten’ll likely be in Philly for a bit longer. Perhaps a deal will be pre-agreed for a future window, a la his older brother before he moved to RB Salzburg, Tajon Buchanan before joining Club Brugge in 2021 and Slonina this year.

Aaronson’s Philly teammate, Jack McGlynn, is another huge talent coming out of the Union academy. He, unlike Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan and Brandan Craig, has been able to win some minutes during the Union’s Supporters’ Shield chase.

McGlynn, 19, is up to 876 minutes, split across 21 appearances (seven starts) this year after picking up 633 minutes last year. Union head coach Jim Curtin has said McGlynn is one of the best passers he’s ever worked with already at his young age.

As long as McGlynn’s physical qualities keep developing (as they have been), he could end up at a big club in Europe.

Toronto FC fullback/winger Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty trained with Liverpool and Arsenal last offseason, was called into the senior Canadian national team this year and was TFC’s starting right back before picking up an injury early in the season. Over the summer, Club Brugge held talks for the rising talent.

Marshall-Rutty, who only turned 18 this summer, is one of the league’s biggest young talents. The winger-turned-wingback is continuing to develop off the ball but remains subject of interest to many clubs abroad.