Look down previous iterations of 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR lists, particularly in the last three years, and you'll find a wide group of players who have since made big-money moves to Europe.
Seven members of last year’s 22 Under 22 list have already made moves overseas (though one of which, Brian Rodriguez, is back from a tepid loan at Almeria). Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie and Gianluca Busio – now all US men's national teamers – highlight that group of exports.
Eight members of 2019’s 22 Under 22 made their move to Europe (with some overlap from last year’s group, including Aaronson and Busio). All of the top five from 2018’s version have moved on, paced by Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams.
This trend will only proliferate and become more lucrative as European clubs view MLS as a viable (and perhaps undervalued) market. Davies is likely worth quintuple what Bayern Munich paid to acquire him, Adams has exponentially outperformed his reported $3 million move and Aaronson is a sure bet to be moved on for a profit on the package worth potentially $9 million that RB Salzburg sent to Philly.
This list of players from the 2021 class who could soon move is not comprehensive; there are always surprises. It was no shock Tanner Tessmann had suitors, but a deal with Venezia FC came together seemingly out of nowhere this summer. Bryan Reynolds went from intriguing prospect to the subject of interest from half of Italy's Serie A in a matter of under 1,400 MLS minutes.
Here are some transfer-related updates we know about (with their 22U22 ranking) for the 2021 honorees.
League-record Homegrown deal on tap?
Bayern, Ajax, Serie A clubs, Bundesliga clubs to name a few clubs chasing
A tier of one, let’s start with this year’s 22 Under 22 golden boy.
Ajax have scouted the striker, Bayern have long been interested after a few training stints and a host of other clubs from Italy and Germany are hovering as well. As Fabrizio Romano aptly put it: Ricardo Pepi is on everybody's radar.
For an 18-year-old who has three goals in three USMNT appearances, all World Cup qualifiers, and has 13 goals and three assists in 27 appearances (22 starts) with FC Dallas in MLS this season, that's hardly surprising.
FC Dallas are yet to receive an offer ahead of this window – they have rejected offers for Pepi in the past, per a source — though with all the interest and Pepi's consistent performances, offers are very likely to come in before long. Dallas would love to keep him for another year, but that would be a tall task when clubs begin offering serious money – and Pepi will be the subject of opulent bids.
Bayern’s partnership and familiarity with FC Dallas could give them a leg up in the chase. And usually when Bayern really want a player, they sign that player. They see him as a young Edin Dzeko, according to The Athletic, and can see him very easily fitting into their system as an aging Robert Lewandowski flirts with the possibility of leaving. How badly do they want him? Ajax would make sense as one of the premier development clubs in the world, Champions League regulars and a club with the money to compete in the Pepi sweepstakes.
In speaking with a number of scouts and GMs across the league, the general consensus is to assume that a base fee of at least $15 million (which would eclipse the base fee of Davies’ deal to Bayern) plus incentives and a sell-on percentage could do the trick. But a player is worth whatever the acquiring club is willing to pay. We’ll see.
Joining RB Leipzig this winter
No speculating here; Caden Clark will join RB Leipzig this winter. The only hypothesizing is whether or not he’ll stay at Leipzig in the short-term or head out on loan, as the German Bundesliga club will be midway through their season.
Clark, 18, has six goals and three assists across 28 MLS appearances (18 starts), though all four of his goals this season came before June. Things haven’t been perfect since the move was announced. He seems to have fallen out of favor under manager Gerhard Strbuer, starting just twice in their last 10 matches.
The lack of minutes would complicate the possibility of a loan back to RBNY, which has been discussed. Austria's RB Salzburg could be another likely loan destination from Leipzig if Jesse Marsch decides he’s not quite ready for Bundesliga minutes.
Came close this summer
Rejected Benfica offer; Anderlecht, Vitesse and others in the mix
As first reported by MLSsoccer.com, the Rapids and Benfica agreed to a club-record deal for Bassett this summer, but the player turned it down. He wanted to stick around for the rest of the season in the hopes of winning a trophy with his hometown team, plus Benfica’s package included him playing games with their B team to start, something he wasn't entirely convinced by.
Benfica are still in the hunt, but so are other clubs. A source tells MLSsoccer.com that Belgium's Anderlecht and Holland's Vitesse have serious interest, as well as a few clubs from Germany, and to expect movement in his market this winter.
Bassett has a knack for scoring goals and his endless motor should translate well anywhere he goes, provided the right offer comes in. The 20-year-old already has 66 MLS matches under his belt and is a key part of the Rapids' third-place squad this year, with 26 games played (20 starts). In his career, he has 12 goals and 10 assists.
Bayern had bids rejected; Bayern + Bundesliga, Premier League clubs interested
After a hugely successful loan to Bayern Munich last winter, in which Justin Che quickly ascended from Bayern’s U-19 side to their B team (then in the German third-tier), the Bavarian giants wanted to keep him.
Bayern were hoping for a deal under $3 million, but that wasn't to FCD's liking. Dallas also wanted to bring Che back into their first team, so the talks ended without a permanent transfer being agreed in the summer. Negotiations between Bayern and Dallas will reignite this winter, but other German clubs and Premier League sides are circling, sources say.
Che, 17, has made 13 appearances since returning to Dallas this summer. He has a German passport and can play centrally or wide.
Purchase clause at Almeria not triggered; What’s next?
If UD Almeria had earned promotion to La Liga, it would have triggered a purchase clause to keep on-loan Uruguay international winger Brian Rodriguez via an eight-figure deal. He didn’t exactly excel in Spain, but they wouldn’t have had a choice. Alas, it wasn’t to be and he returned to Los Angeles this summer without another suitable offer or opportunity arising for LAFC.
So what’s next? Who knows.
Rodriguez hasn’t exactly lit MLS ablaze, but firmly remains a regular with La Celeste, appearing in six of nine Conmebol World Cup qualifiers. This is what is so tantalizing about Rodriguez; his talent and potential are undeniable. Look at this goal (below) against the Galaxy. He’s got moments like this firmly in his locker.
But consistency has been an issue for the 21-year-old. He had no goals and one assist in 16 appearances in the Spanish second tier. In his MLS career, he has four goals and seven assists across 35 games.
Matter of time?
Reportedly linked with Watford, West Brom and many other English clubs
Orlando City and USMNT rising forward Daryl Dike was seemingly linked with half of the Premier League at some point this year, but nothing came to fruition in the summer. It was difficult to know what was real and what wasn't, even more than usual in a typical silly season.
“It’s funny. Of course some things were true, but, yeah, there were some things people were saying that were very, very false,” Dike told MLSsoccer.com last month. “It goes both ways."
Something that is real? Dike is back to full form. After essentially playing nonstop for the better part of a year-and-a-half between his Orlando breakout, national team camps, loan to Barnsley, back to the national team and then Orlando return, Dike was given a few weeks off to reset and heal lingering knocks in August.
It’s done wonders. Dike has scored in each of his last three games and is hitting the type of performances that made most assume a big-money move to England this summer was a foregone conclusion. This is just his second professional season. He has plenty of time ahead of him.
No offers yet, but that should change in the winter
NYCFC's first-ever homegrown signing came part of a strong crop of talents, two of whom are now in the Bundesliga. Gio Reyna signed for Borussia Dortmund, while Joe Scally signed a homegrown contract before Borussia Monchengladbach agreed on a deal to sign him upon his 18th birthday – all before he made his MLS debut.
James Sands is likely to be next.
Interest is aplenty in the USMNT center back/defensive midfielder, but there have been no offers just yet. Teams in Belgium and Germany have looked around in the past, with varying degrees of seriousness. We’ll see what the winter brings, where the interest is expected to get a lot more real.
Some of Sands’ best qualities are his cerebral nature, maturity and positioning, traits that would translate well to adapting to a new team and league. At 21, he has already played key roles under multiple NYCFC managers, accrued 57 starts and earned both Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying minutes.
No offers yet; English, Belgian and other teams in the mix
Araujo, who recently filed a one-time switch from the USMNT to Mexico to represent El Tri internationally, is highly rated. He has 62 MLS appearances and started all but one of the Galaxy’s 28 matches so far this season. His athleticism, 1-v-1 defensive prowess and developing end product – he has six assists this season – is tantalizing for scouts in Europe. There haven't been any offers yet for the defender, who signed a U22 Initiative contract extension this year, but clubs from England, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe are keeping tabs on his development.
Prior to signing with the Galaxy in 2019, he was at the Barca Residency Academy in Arizona and got a trial at La Masia with Barcelona. The La Liga giants were impressed, but Araujo eventually signed in MLS.
RB Salzburg, City Football Group reportedly interested
The 18-year-old is reportedly on the radar of RB Salzburg (per Kristian Dyer of MLS Multiplex) as well as City Football Group (per Steven Goff of The Washington Post). He made his MLS debut in 2020, featuring in most of D.C.'s games, before increasing his role this year. The homegrown player has made 37 appearances to date.
Paredes has been name-checked by USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter in press conferences as a player on his radar and was included in a pre-Gold Cup training camp. The future is bright here.
"The whole reason I wanted to play this beautiful sport is to play on the biggest stages,” Paredes told MLSsoccer.com earlier this year. “That will be my forever goal, and also playing for the country I'm born in. Those two are things I have in the back of my mind, what I’m chasing."
Signed new contract amid interest from Europe, Chivas
Efrain Alvarez has been on the scene for years, signing a contract with the LA Galaxy's second team as a 15-year-old back in 2017 and becoming the youngest ever player to appear in a USL match at the time. His talent has long been unmatched and he's beginning to take the next steps to translate that onto the pitch on a consistent basis.
Interest from Liga MX's Chivas was there earlier this year, but it didn’t result in anything serious. Alvarez could have run out his contract and had his pick of clubs as a free agent but opted to stay with the Galaxy, re-signing in July on a deal that includes a club option for the 2024 season.
At the 2019 U-17 World Cup, Europe's biggest clubs – Barcelona, PSG and more – were all enamored by his talent and hopeful to see how his fitness and athleticism developed to match his technical quality. That's a similar case today. Clubs across all of Europe's top leagues (Spain, Netherlands, England, etc.) have Alvarez on their radar and are waiting to see a full season of consistency to match his potential.
Alvarez, 19, arrived at training camp this year noticeably slimmer and fitter, a big step in realizing that projection. That progress helped him break into the senior Mexican national team, where he has earned four caps. He has made 20 appearances (13 starts) for the Galaxy this year, career highs at the MLS level.
No offers yet; Clubs from Belgium, Netherlands interested
After a down year in 2020, Jesus Ferreira has rebounded quite nicely in 2021 with six goals and six assists in 22 appearances. FC Dallas have looked their best with Ferreira playing underneath Pepi in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as the versatile attacker thrives as a second striker.
Ferreira broke out in 2019 with eight goals and six assists and is a US international. There have been no offers yet, but teams in Belgium and the Netherlands are keeping tabs for a move, perhaps as early as this winter.
Ferreira's still just 20 years old but his contract runs through 2023. Club and player have plenty of time, and offers will be taken seriously if they arrive.