At the start of January, transfer windows in Europe and around the globe officially open. Once again, MLS will be a key player in the global transfer market.
Last year was a banner period for outbound transfers and this year hasn’t slowed down.
Already-completed deals for the winter window to Europe and South America:
- Gaga Slonina, GK: Chicago Fire FC to Chelsea FC (England), up to $15 million
- Ismaël Koné, M: CF Montréal to Watford FC (England), reportedly around $8-10 million
- Djordje Mihailovic, M: CF Montréal to AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands), around $6 million
- Paxten Aaronson, M: Philadelphia Union to Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), $4 million
- Alistair Johnston, D: CF Montréal to Celtic FC (Scotland), around $3.5 million
- Daniel Ríos, F: Charlotte FC to Chivas (Mexico), undisclosed
- Nicolas Acevedo, M: New York City FC to Bahia (Brazil), loan
All of this occurred before the windows even officially open!
We’ve been in this stage with Kai Wagner for a few windows, haven’t we? Well, here we are again.
The expectation is an agreeable bid arrives for Wagner to return to Europe this winter. EPL side Leeds United had interest in the summer (driven by ex-MLS manager Jesse Marsch) but a formal bid never came. German clubs and others are tracking the 25-year-old now.
Wagner would have expected to return to Europe by now as well, but the German remained a consummate professional even as a move didn’t materialize over the summer or last winter. He helped the Eastern Conference-winning Union on a trophy push, falling in the Supporters’ Shield race on a tiebreaker and then losing in MLS Cup after penalty kicks.
The two-time Best XI selection is the best left back in MLS, a crucial part of Philly’s success in recent years. Wagner was a 2022 MLS Defender of the Year finalist and had 15 (!) assists last season.
It’s been a good few months for José Cifuentes. The LAFC midfielder won the 2022 Supporters’ Shield in October and then MLS Cup in November. A few weeks later, he made his World Cup debut with Ecuador.
Now, Cifuentes seems destined for a lucrative move to Europe. EPL side Brighton & Hove Albion have been linked with Cifuentes. The English club already has three fellow Ecuador internationals in the squad: midfielder Moisés Caicedo, left back Pervis Estupiñán and winger Jeremy Sarmiento.
Cifuentes, 23, had a breakout 2022 with 7g/7a in 33 appearances. He was a highly-rated Ecuador youth international, helping lead his country on a memorable run at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
We’ll write about these Atlanta United teammates as a pair. They’re both high-priced imports from Argentina who are likely to be on their way out of the club this winter as the Five Stripes’ roster gets overturned.
Brazilian side Sao Paulo are reportedly close on a deal to sign Alan Franco, while some South American teams are interested in Marcelino Moreno. Franco has started 54 games over the past two seasons and Moreno has 13g/14a in 68 games for ATLUTD.
Garth Lagerwey took over as president and CEO of the club this winter. Moreno and Franco have had moments, but both players have significant holds on the salary cap (including transfer fees).
Last winter, Atlanta made similar maneuvers by loaning midfielder Ezequiel Barco to Argentina’s River Plate, loaning forward Erik Lopez to Banfield and then buying out winger Jurgen Damm.
Nashville SC club-record signing Aké Loba is likely to leave MLS this winter, with Liga MX side Mazatlan FC in advanced talks to sign the forward.
Loba, 24, hasn’t consistently cracked the starting XI after arriving at the club in a big move from Liga MX’s CF Monterrey. Loba has 2g/2a in 681 minutes (40 games) over a season and a half at Nashville.
The Ivory Coast native joined in July 2021 for a club-record $6.8 million fee, but MLS veteran C.J. Sapong beat him out for the No. 9 post alongside reigning MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Hany Mukhtar.
To be fair, if this was exclusively up to Atlanta United, I’d very much imagine Thiago Almada would be here for at least another year. And he still might be.
But there was already a ton of interest in Almada before he became the first active MLSer to win the World Cup (and 13th overall). He’s destined for Europe sooner rather than later. If a huge bid comes in this winter from a big club, Atlanta might have their hands tied.
Almada, 21, had 6g/12a during his debut MLS season and his influence grew as the year went on, even in a dysfunctional Atlanta attack. The Argentine attacker is the league’s all-time most expensive inbound transfer, arriving from Velez Sarsfield for $16 million last winter.
Speaking of potential big bids, FC Cincinnati forward Brenner would only leave via a substantial transfer offer. Cincy have already rejected a $7 million bid for Brenner’s strike partner Brandon Vázquez from Liga MX’s Chivas.
Brenner, who turns 23 in January, has long been expected to make a big move to Europe, surprising many by landing with FC Cincinnati in 2021. After a breakout 2022 with 18g/6a in just over 2,000 minutes, Brenner could be in Europe before long.
If Brenner leaves, the move would open a DP spot for Cincy. Any replacement (signed now or in the summer) would likely be a big, big swing. Brenner was signed for $13 million from Brazil’s São Paulo. Cincy could surpass that fee if they identify a target they deem worthy.
Jhon Durán will be among the league’s top 10 most expensive outbound transfers at some point. Maybe even top five. How soon is the only question.
Durán, who turned 19 in December, had a strong debut MLS season with the Chicago Fire and even earned his senior Colombian international debut. Reports continue to swirl about his future, with numerous big European clubs hoping to sign him this winter – though Chicago would prefer to keep him from another year.
The center forward had 8g/3a in 1,363 minutes for the Fire this season, winning the No. 9 role in the summer.
Durán will be a key player for Colombia at the South American U-20 championships in January. Scouts from all over the world will be in attendance and, already a known commodity, Durán will be watched with keen eyes.
By age 20, John Tolkin has already had two full seasons as the starting left back for the New York Red Bulls. The US youth international seems ready for the next step. Will it be this winter or at some point over the next year?
Tolkin has made 59 MLS appearances over the two seasons, tallying 2g/5a. Austria's RB Salzburg have had interest in the homegrown player in the past, while Belgium's RSC Anderlecht were linked with Tolkin in the summer.
The Red Bulls signed two homegrown left backs this winter (Curtis Ofori and Jayden Reid), perhaps planning for the eventuality that Tolkin is no longer at the club.
Toronto FC homegrown Jayden Nelson made the most of a 2022 season with the club’s roster in flux, getting elevated to a starting role as TFC awaited the debuts of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.
After the Italian wingers arrived, Nelson retained a starting spot in central midfield, where he thrived. Now, he could be on the move this winter. The Parleh’s Michael Singh reported he expects a move abroad for Nelson this winter.
Nelson, 20, made 31 appearances (25 starts) for Toronto in 2022 with 1g/2a. The Reds are continuing to retool their roster for 2023, exercising further departures from the squad Bob Bradley inherited a year ago.
Former San Jose Earthquakes manager Matias Almeyda remains interested in bringing Benji Kikanović to AEK Athens.
After a rejected offer from the Super League Greece side in the summer, the Quakes received another bid from AEK for Kikanovic this month, sources told MLSsoccer.com. San Jose are in no rush to make a move, with new head coach Luchi Gonzalez taking over this winter and wanting to get a chance to assess the squad during preseason camp. The Greek transfer window is open from January 1 through January 31.
Kikanović, who turns 23 in January, was given his MLS debut under Almeyda in 2021 and continued to earn playing time even after Almeyda was dismissed, winning a starting spot for much of the 2022 season under interim head coach Alex Covelo. He had 6g/3a in 1,370 minutes last season, split across 30 matches (16 starts).
I’m not sure I’d expect San Jose to move both Kikanović and homegrown forward Cade Cowell in the same window, and it seems like Kikanović is more likely at this stage. But hey, things change rapidly.
CF Montréal are in the process of replacing key minutes and influence in the first team as essential starters Djordje Mihailovic, Victor Wanyama, Alistair Johnston and Ismaël Koné all depart. Head coach Wilfried Nancy is now leading the Columbus Crew, too.
There still could be further losses, namely Canadian international center back Kamal Miller. The 25-year-old defender has made 54 appearances over two seasons with Montréal and blossomed into an important player at the club. European teams are interested, but nothing is imminent. I’d say 50/50 he leaves.
Montréal have already added center back George Campbell (from Atlanta) and wingback Aaron Herrera (from RSL) in trades this winter as they seek to replenish the squad.
United States youth international Caleb Wiley earned valuable first-team experience in 2022, playing 1,500 MLS minutes before his 18th birthday.
Wiley is a big talent and is in contention to make the US roster for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May.
Atlanta have already rejected an offer for Wiley in the past that exceeded the deal that sent George Bello to now-2. Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld.
While his Toronto teammate (Nelson) started most of 2022, injury misfortunes limited Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty in 2022. Still, the 18-year-old Canadian rising talent is destined for Europe.
Marshall-Rutty made 17 MLS appearances (five starts) in 2022 after training with Arsenal and Liverpool in the offseason. Liverpool, in particular, accelerated him to the U-23s from the U-18s very quickly.
Dutch club PSV are reportedly interested in Austin FC homegrown and US youth international Owen Wolff.
Wolff, who turns 18 in a couple of days, made 24 MLS appearances in 2022. PSV and Austin have a partnership. Too soon for a move? We’ll see.
Owen’s older brother, Tyler, plays for Belgian second-division club SK Beveren on loan from Atlanta United.
New England Revolution homegrown and US youth international midfielder Noel Buck could be primed for a breakout 2023.
Buck, 17, can’t go abroad until his 18th birthday (which isn’t until late April), so there’s no rush here. He made seven appearances at the end of 2022 after turning pro and has the chance to earn regular minutes this winter since the Revs aren’t especially deep in central midfield.
EPL powerhouse Tottenham Hotspur have some interest and nearly brought Buck to England for a training stint this winter, but it fell through.