The summer transfer window is here, and MLS players will play a key role in the musical chairs game that defines the global transfer market.
Most European transfer windows don’t officially open for another couple of weeks or even a month (July 1). But just as MLS teams conducted, finalized and announced transfers all winter despite the MLS Primary Transfer Window not opening until early February, for European teams, all focus is on preparation for the 2022-23 season. And it’s not just European teams, as we’ve seen the biggest South American clubs, like River Plate and Palmeiras, acquire MLS talent as well.
Anyway. Here are some MLSers to watch as European clubs make additions to their rosters.
Almost definitely leaving
Adam Buksa is among the biggest names in MLS who is likely to make a move this summer. Or maybe the move is already done.
Buksa is set for a transfer to French side RC Lens, who reportedly beat out Turkish club Besiktas to sign the Poland international. He was pictured holding a Lens kit with his name on it on Sunday.
Lens finished seventh in Ligue 1 this year and have already signed a Poland international from MLS before, with former Chicago Fire FC wide player Przemyslaw Frankowski in the team. The club are clearly scouting MLS, as they also had bids rejected for former New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan last year as well.
Buksa, 25, has 7g/2a in 10 appearances (nine starts) this year after a breakout 2021 season with 16g/4a in 31 appearances (21 starts). He arrived in MLS for a reported fee of $4 million from Poland's top flight.
"I’m sure that we will be sorting out a variety of offers over the next couple of weeks or so for the transfer window in Europe," head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena told media two weeks ago. He was extremely correct.
With Poland, Buksa is working to not only secure his spot on the World Cup roster but as the first-choice partner for megastar Robert Lewandowski.
It was a big surprise to see Taty Castellanos still with NYCFC on opening day of the 2022 MLS season, with a number of clubs interested in the reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and MLS Cup champion. But that interest never quite turned into real, acceptable offers. Premier League side Burnley considered him in the winter but opted for Wout Weghorst instead, sources told MLSsoccer.com. They have since been relegated.
Now, with the summer bringing about their offseason, it’s a bit easier for European clubs to make lucrative deals for players. The latest reports suggest West Ham are interested in a potential $16 million deal for Castellanos, but a source told MLSsoccer.com that NYCFC are yet to receive a bid of $16 million from anyone. River Plate are interested as well but are likely priced out at NYCFC’s valuation.
If Castellanos is indeed transferred for $16 million, he’d become the fifth-most expensive outbound MLS transfer in league history.
The 23-year-old hasn’t let the lack of a transfer dampen his spirits or form. He’s only gone out and delivered 11g/5a in 17 appearances across MLS and Concacaf Champions League play so far this year.
Chicago Fire FC and US youth international goalkeeper Gaga Slonina has been the subject of interest, reports and rumors aplenty over the last year or so. The reports and rumors have cascaded already over the last month. They will continue all summer. Be prepared for more updates.
The latest includes Real Madrid "preparing" a bid for Slonina and Bayern Munich keeping an eye on him, while Premier League clubs Wolves and Southampton are interested as well. Chelsea held talks for Slonina in the winter, but their ownership situation halted those negotiations. With new ownership in place, Chelsea are expected to come back in for the 18-year-old homegrown.
Any deal would be contingent on a loan back agreement through at least the winter.
The Philadelphia Union left back looks likely to be suiting up for a new club in a few months. Clubs in England – including Leeds, Burnley and Middlesbrough – and in Wagner's native Germany are very interested in signing him.
Wagner, 25, nearly joined Fulham or Brentford in the January transfer window, but no deal got done. He’s ready for a return to European soccer after joining Philly from German third-tier side Wurzburger Kickers.
Signed for a nominal fee, Wagner has been one of many examples of Philly finding hidden gems in the transfer market. He has made 91 regular-season appearances (4g/22a) with the Union, now in his fourth season in MLS. He was named a 2021 All-Star and has been crucial in the club’s success.
Keep an eye on…
As for Wagner’s Philadelphia teammate Jose Martinez? Not so certain. The Venezuelan international has long had European teams interested, but the Union didn’t receive serious bids in the last few windows.
Turning 28 at the beginning of August, what is the market like? What reasonable number would the Union deem okay to move perhaps the best No. 6 in the league? Particularly halfway through a season in which the Union are among one of the best teams in MLS?
Martinez has made 51 appearances with the Union since joining ahead of 2020, a crucial cog for Jim Curtin over these three years as the midfield anchor. He signed a contract extension with club options through 2024 last January.
After becoming among MLS’s most expensive all-time signings ($13 million from Sao Paulo), as well as carving a new path for highly-rated Brazil youth internationals to the league, Brenner’s time in MLS has not been quite ideal. FC Cincinnati struggled mightily in 2021. Now, with things much better on the field, Brenner has spent most of his time either on the bench or, recently, suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Brenner asked out in April when Cincy rejected a bid from Brazil's Internacional. I would very much imagine Cincy receiving more offers this summer, with teams both in Brazil and Europe keeping an eye on him. His value hasn’t gone up since the rejected bid, which the club turned down because it didn’t match what they believe his value is. Will an acceptable offer come in this summer?
Ochoa, 21, won the starting GK job for RSL last year. He hasn’t appeared in MLS yet this campaign with Zac MacMath becoming the Claret-and-Cobalt's starter.
A legitimate Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate this year, Djordje Mihailovic has been incredible for CF Montréal over the last year and a half. He has 11g/20a in 48 MLS appearances for the club and trained with Serie A side Bologna in the offseason.
The 23-year-old returned to the USMNT in the winter for a camp and was called in for the June window, facing a real chance at earning a World Cup roster spot. But an ankle injury cruelly ruled him out of this window.
As a crucial player for Ecuador’s breakout team at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, Jose Cifuentes came to LAFC and continued developing. He's now with the senior national team as they qualified for the 2022 World Cup.
Now in his third MLS season, with his profile boosted by his international play, it’d be extremely unsurprising if bids came for Cifuentes this summer. The 23-year-old has made 64 appearances for LAFC, posting nine goals and 12 assists.
Cristian Casseres Jr., like Cifuentes, came to MLS as a promising youth international and developed really well to where he is now, a difference-maker in this league. He, too, graduated into his senior national team (Venezuela), which helped boost his profile.
Clubs have been interested in Casseres, but no bids came over the winter. The summer might make more sense for the 22-year-old, who already has 83 MLS appearances for the New York Red Bulls with 12 goals and 12 assists.
DeJuan Jones has been among the very best left backs in the league for a couple of years now. With Jones turning 25 this summer, the timing would make sense for clubs to try and sign him.
Jones signed a contract extension through 2024 with a club option for 2025 in the offseason, though. He’s made 81 appearances with the Revs and was a key piece in their record-breaking, Supporters' Shield-winning 2021 season.
Portland Timbers midfielder Eryk Williamson is back from a torn ACL, making five starts so far this year as he regains form. He started the Concacaf Gold Cup final for the USMNT last summer and is on the fringes of the national team roster as they prepare for the World Cup.
Now-Premier League side Nottingham Forest were interested and hopeful for a deal before Williamson suffered a season-ending injury in 2021. With D.C. United having a 50% sell-on clause as part of trading his homegrown rights to Portland, it’s unclear what figure would be enough to entice the Timbers to move him.
It might be too early, but...
Canadian teenage talent Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty has been with the senior national team and nailed down a starting role with Toronto FC before getting injured, all by the age of 17. He turns 18 this summer and widespread interest in the wingback is expected to turn into bids.
Marshall-Rutty trained with Arsenal and Liverpool in the offseason. Liverpool, in particular, accelerated him to the U-23s from the U-18s very quickly. We’ll see.
Philadelphia Union homegrown Paxten Aaronson may well be the club’s next academy product to make a big move to Europe.
RB Salzburg have long been interested in Paxten. They just transferred his older brother Brenden to Leeds United for upwards of $30 million. They’re not the only club keeping tabs on him though, as there are routinely scouts in Philly to watch him.
The 18-year-old has made 23 career MLS appearances so far, most of which from the bench.
Maybe it’s a bit early for Griffin Yow. But also, he might exist in that space with guys like Thomas Roberts, Brandon Servania, Simon Colyn and others who went to Europe on loan before they could become regular contributors at the MLS level.
The 19-year-old D.C. United homegrown has made three starts this season.
He doesn’t turn 18 until December, so he can’t move until at least the winter anyway. But like with Tajon Buchanan and Brenden Aaronson in years past, that won’t necessarily stop teams from making offers on a pre-transfer agreement this summer.