In our globalized and interconnected soccer community, few players are truly unknown to clubs abroad.
In particular, youth national team regulars are known long before they make their first-team debuts, but teenagers leveling up at the senior level demonstrates growth and, perhaps, readiness for the next step.
A number of players around MLS are doing that after the first month of the 2023 season. Timelines for transfers are accelerated.
It’s a growing trend in MLS that's long been the norm in Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere beyond Europe’s top five leagues: Young stars are often gone sooner than you think.
Jhon Durán spent a year in MLS with Chicago Fire CF before a baseline $18 million transfer to English Premier League side Aston Villa. Kevin Paredes was a starter for just a season with D.C. United before heading to German Bundesliga side Wolfsburg for $7.35 million. And so on. It’ll happen again this year.
I’m going to leave out the likes of Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada and New England Revolution goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic, for the sake of a slightly deeper cut.
We already know those two will dominate the transfer news cycle until a deal is announced, with Almada likely to break the MLS outbound transfer record and clubs like Manchester United scouting Petrovic, as I first reported last month.
So far, the teenage breakout star of the season is undoubtedly New England Revolution midfielder Noel Buck.
Buck, 17, won a spot in a crowded Revs midfield, starting all five games this season and proving integral to their fast start. He even scored a late-game-winning goal on Saturday (a deflected effort) but it was already the second time he’s been involved in a late-game-winning goal for New England this season.
Clubs in England are interested in signing him, per sources. Buck is happy in New England and isn’t in a rush to leave. He nearly joined Tottenham Hotspur for a training stint this winter, but that fell through.
Buck’s UK passport makes him eligible for both the English and Welsh national teams, should either attempt to sway him. He’s been with the US U-19 squad and is age-eligible for the 2025 U-20 World Cup.
I’d assume Buck finishes the season with New England, but that might be it. Could an agreement for a transfer be reached this summer for a winter move? That’d make a lot of sense, like Tajon Buchanan (New England to Club Brugge), Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union to RB Salzburg), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls to RB Leipzig) and others in recent memory.
Just depends on the offers, but they’ll be coming.
Dylan Borrero, Buck’s teammate in New England, is also blossoming. One international scout I talked to thinks he could play in the UEFA Europa League right now; that’s how talented he is.
Borrero, who just turned 21 over the winter, joined New England last spring in a $4 million transfer from Brazil's Atletico Mineiro. He looked good when he played in 2022, but was limited to just over 600 minutes due to injury. He's built on those moments so far in 2023 and is a written-in-pen starter whenever available.
The U22 Initiative winger was with the senior Colombian international side during the March window, appearing in both friendlies off the bench, after making his international debut in January against the USMNT. That’ll boost a player’s reputation (and price).
New England will continue to have plenty of scouts in attendance at their games for Borrero, Buck and Petrovic.
No Atlanta United player has benefited more from playing with Thiago Almada than Caleb Wiley.
Wiley’s ability to understand space and his engine to keep making runs has resulted in getting the ball in advantageous positions time and time again, where he’s delivered three goals and two assists in five appearances.
Wiley, 18, more likely projects as a left back rather than a left winger as his career develops, but with stalwart defender Andrew Gutman holding down that spot, it’s great for him to get minutes further up the pitch.
The highly-rated US youth international was already a known commodity abroad. I reported last year that Atlanta rejected a bid for Wiley, before the homegrown’s current breakout showings.
Wiley is likely to be at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May, the premier youth soccer tournament where scouts from all top clubs in the world will be watching. His value will continue rising and more bids will arrive.
Juan Mosquera has been a ray of light amid the Portland Timbers’ dark start to the season.
Mosquera, 20, started all four games he was available for before departing for international duty. He’s 10th in fouls won per 90 minutes (minimum 300 minutes), and it's an oddity for a fullback to be that high up the list (Toronto FC right back is there Richie Laryea too). Mosquera has been integral to the group.
Internationally, Mosquera has graduated into Colombia’s senior team. He was among the best players on the field in a January friendly against the USMNT and was with the senior side again during the March window, though he didn’t see the field.
Portland have already rejected offers for the Colombian right back. The U22 Initiative player was only signed last summer, for $1.9 million from Independiente Medellin, while clubs like LaLiga’s Villarreal were also trying to sign him. He’ll be in Europe before long for a significant fee.
Austin FC homegrown midfielder Owen Wolff is building off a hugely encouraging age-17 season last year, in which he made 24 appearances (over 900 minutes). At the moment, he’s not just a starter but a fairly integral one.
The Verde & Black simply look better when the 18-year-old is on the field. Wolff missed last weekend’s game while he was on international duty with the US U-20s, and he’s expected to make the squad for the upcoming U-20 World Cup.
Wolff has been linked with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, who have a partnership with Austin FC. Former US Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart works for the club as well, giving another connection.
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty had to wait until Matchday 5 for his 2023 season debut, but it was a memorable one.
The 18-year-old right back was named to Team of the Matchday presented by Audi after a stellar performance, which head coach Bob Bradley commended during his postgame press conference.
Marshall-Rutty had a stop-start 2022 season. He started last campaign as Toronto’s first-choice right back, but picked up a long-term knee injury. By the time he was back, Richie Laryea had been signed on loan from EPL side Nottingham Forest and opportunities were extremely limited.
Even still, interest remains high in Marshall-Rutty.
This past winter, Toronto FC rejected a trade offer from within MLS and a transfer offer abroad for the talented Canadian homegrown, as I reported in January. Belgium’s Club Brugge have long held interest, including some preliminary talks at the end of the summer transfer window last year.
A run of performances like last Saturday's will move this market pretty quickly.
One positive byproduct of the Colorado Rapids' slow start to 2023 is homegrown forward Darren Yapi.
Yapi, 18, started their first four games, looking like he belonged and earning a call-up to the US U-20 camp this month as well. It's the final camp before the U-20 World Cup in May, and I'm surprised it took this long for him to be involved. But now he's got a serious chance to be on the roster.
The highly-rated forward went on training stints with Arsenal and Club Brugge ahead of the 2022 season.
Yapi's starting spot is no guarantee with Chilean international Diego Rubio back from injury and DP Kévin Cabral recently scoring his first goal, but he's clearly proven to be part of the attacking rotation and will keep getting chances.
Cade Cowell hasn’t quite taken The Leap™ in the early goings of 2023 after a stellar January camp with the USMNT, but he fits this timeline.
The San Jose homegrown winger has started all five games to open the season, and may be found more often in a USA jersey than an Earthquakes kit over the next few months. Cowell is a prime candidate to be on the USMNT roster for an April friendly against Mexico, then will be with his country at the U-20 World Cup in May.
Cowell, who is still only 19, has already been the subject of bids from French Ligue 1 club Reims last summer, which San Jose turned down. Plenty of other European clubs have been linked as well. A big performance at the U-20 World Cup could accelerate his next step.