The World Cup is here. It's the sport’s biggest stage.
Transfers have been fueled by World Cup performances for a long time. It’s not quite the same in our age of information and globalization – to folks running clubs, there aren’t many unknown players coming to the World Cup – but big performances at the tournament can still play a part in transfers.
MLS is sending the sixth-most players (36) to the World Cup from any league worldwide. Here are seven that could be on their way to Europe in big transfers this winter (or in the near future).
World Cup: Canada, Group F
For the first time, we’ll get to watch a lot of fans discover CF Montréal and Canadian midfielder Ismaël Koné, a hot commodity to European clubs already but likely unknown to casuals across the world.
In a recent conversation with a European agent, he recalled watching Montréal’s win over Orlando City SC in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, where Koné scored. He thought to himself 'Wow, who is this No. 28?' and was shocked to learn he was just 20 years old. I think there’ll be a few more stories like that this month.
Koné was subject to two $6 million (roughly) transfer bids – from English Championship sides Norwich City and Sheffield United – that nearly happened in the summer but ultimately fell through. The price tag might go up this month, as may the caliber of teams bidding.
World Cup: Ecuador, Group A
Jose Cifuentes is believed to have played his last game for LAFC after the rising Ecuador international’s breakout MLS season. Ecuador, a young and fun South American squad, are already among the darlings for neutrals. He should be a regular starter for La Tri.
Cifuentes was linked with Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of the summer, but LAFC kept him through the season. They won the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double, with Cifuentes among their most influential players.
The 23-year-old midfielder was signed by LAFC a few months after starring at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. That Ecuador team, which eliminated the US U-20s in the quarterfinals, has matured and driven World Cup qualification for the senior side.
Where will Cifuentes end up this winter?
World Cup: Cameroon, Group G
Cameroon international Olivier Mbaizo could be an interesting option for clubs in Europe after the World Cup.
The attack-minded right back has 11 caps with Cameroon and has made 67 league appearances with the Philadelphia Union as they’ve won a Supporters’ Shield (2020) and made MLS Cup this year. Now 25, Mbaizo is at a good age for a move.
World Cup: Canada, Group F
A free agent, Jonathan Osorio can choose his next club. Adding a World Cup midfielder without a transfer fee is an attractive proposition for clubs.
The 30-year-old has spoken about how he would want to go to Europe, though hasn’t shut the door on returning to MLS in free agency. We’ll see how the next month goes. The Toronto FC homegrown midfielder has been linked with numerous teams in England.
A key part of Canada’s first World Cup trip in 36 years, Osorio’s just recovered from a head injury that limited him for the MLS stretch run. He is Toronto’s all-time appearance leader with 259 league matches.
World Cup: Argentina, Group C
To emphasize that sentence: A 21-year-old MLS attacker is on Argentina’s World Cup squad. Next to Lionel Messi (PSG), Angel di Maria (Juventus), Julian Alvarez (Manchester City) and Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan). It’s wild to type out.
Anyway. Like the next two on this list, I’d be surprised if Almada leaves this winter, but it’s certainly a possibility. Whether Almada plays at the tournament or not, his price is going up when you can point to “member of Argentina’s World Cup squad.”
Almada had 6g/12a in 29 appearances during his debut MLS season after becoming the league’s most expensive transfer, a $16 million move from Velez Sarsfield to Atlanta last winter. He isn’t likely to be in MLS much longer, and when he goes, it could challenge the league’s outbound transfer record (set by Miguel Almiron – from Atlanta to Newcastle for a reported $27 million in January 2019).
It would have felt weird writing this story without mentioning these next two players, even if they don’t 100% fit the premise.
I don’t expect anything to happen this winter, but in the future, for sure. Maybe some shine at the World Cup will play a part in that.
World Cup: USA, Group B
Jesus Ferreira signed a long-term, Designated Player deal last winter. His camp could have pushed for a move abroad, but the forward stayed at FC Dallas and had an awesome 2022 season – earning a spot on the MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire.
Ferreira is likely to be in Europe at some point in the near future. I’m just not sure it’s this winter, hence separating him into this subcategory. But he may well be the starting No. 9 for the USMNT.
The forward, who turns 22 this winter, had 18g/6a this past season and was named MLS Young Player of the Year. The previous two winners (Ricardo Pepi, Diego Rossi) made big moves to Europe not long after winning the award.
World Cup: Uruguay, Group H
To some, Facundo Torres signing with Orlando from Penarol rather than going directly to Europe was a surprise. He stayed in Uruguay until he was 21 and was one of the biggest talents in South America, with a future destined for the game’s biggest competitions.
Orlando know Torres, their club-record signing (reported $7.5 million), won’t be here for a decade. Part of the plan is to transfer him to a big European club at some point… but maybe not quite yet. There were rumors of Arsenal being interested and even a meeting between the parties, but the Premier League leaders haven’t made contact with Orlando.