Luis Binks - closeup - away shirt
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Are we seeing a new transfer trend of young players moving from England to MLS?

When Toronto FC acquired Tony Gallacher on loan from Liverpool earlier this month, it raised a few eyebrows on both sides of the pond.

That's natural, of course. Any time the champions of England do business with an MLS team it's going to cause intrigue, but it was also the profile of Gallacher. He's a 21-year-old Scottish youth international that ended up in Toronto. Historically, players of his pedigree have gone elsewhere in the English football pyramid to continue their development, but Gallacher is the latest in a growing number of young, England-based players that have instead come to MLS in 2020 to take the next steps in their career.

The Montreal Impact signed 18-year-old defender Luis Binks (who has since turned 19) from Tottenham, while the New York Red Bulls added 20-year-old midfielder Dru Yearwood from Brentford. Both of those deals were permanent transfers for up-and-coming talents, while Josh Sims continued his loan at RBNY for the first half of the season after initially arriving in 2019 at 22 years old.

Could it be the sign of a trend? Maybe, but probably not. Yet, at least.

“The league has gotten more visibility in the last 18-24 months, so there will be more transactions in more areas that we haven’t seen really," Toronto FC GM Ali Curtis told MLSsoccer.com after the acquisition of Gallacher. "I’m not sure if it’s a true, definite pattern, you know? But it’s not surprising. Our club has great facilities, great staff, great stadium, great ownership and great players, I think that’s becoming more the norm in MLS. So that’s attractive to a lot of players, not just South Americans. To Europeans and players in all different places.”

What can the last five years of additions from England tell us about whether anything is changing at all? While the recruiting profile from England has skewed younger in the last year or two, it is hard to call it an established trend.

Furthermore, there are a lot of players with different profiles also making the move over. There are your global superstars, coming from one of the most visible leagues in the world. Americans and Canadians coming to MLS after forays to Europe is also nothing new, and a few clubs have decision-makers with roots in England. Atlanta United have frequented the English market, no doubt aided with connections made by club president Darren Eales, who used to work for Tottenham. The Colorado Rapids pop up often as well, with EVP & GM Padraig Smith, who had worked with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). The Red Bulls, who recently appointed former Wolves executive Kevin Thelwell as sporting director, have already begun mining the market for talent. 

2016

Player Joined Previous club Nationality
Simon Dawkins Vancouver Whitecaps Derby County Jamaican
Jack Barmby Portland Timbers* Leicester City English
Tim Howard Colorado Rapids Everton American
Chris McCann Atlanta United Wigan Athletic Irish
Steven Taylor Portland Timbers Newcastle United English
Cody Cropper New England Revolution Southampton American

*On loan

It was a slow year for imports from England, though highlighted by Tim Howard making his return to MLS after a stellar career in England, mostly with Everton. Chris McCann, one of Atlanta's first-ever signings, also officially signed in 2016 then was loaned to Coventry City until Atlanta's debut campaign in 2017.

2017

Player Joined Previous club Nationality
Jonathan Spector Orlando City SC Birmingham City American
Nana Boateng Colorado Rapids Manchester City** Ghanaian
Anton Walkes Atlanta United* Tottenham English
Brooks Lennon Real Salt Lake* Liverpool American
Yangel Herrera NYCFC* Manchester City Venezuelan
Bastian Schweinsteiger Chicago Fire Manchester United German
Brad Guzan Atlanta United Middlesbrough FC American
Claude Dielna New England Revolution Sheffield Wednesday French

*On loan
**Boateng never made an appearance for Manchester City

A year with an eclectic range of additions, 2017 saw global superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger come to MLS after a stint with Manchester United, longtime USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan return stateside, while rising talents like Brooks Lennon, Yangel Herrera and Anton Walkes all came to MLS on loan.

Lennon was a product of the Real Salt Lake academy before moving to Liverpool's youth side, then his temporary move back to RSL was made permanent the following season. He since has been traded to Atlanta. Herrera, meanwhile, used his time at NYCFC as a springboard to becoming a mainstay with the Venezuelan national team and was a constant starter with Granada, who finished 7th in La Liga last year. The future is bright for the 22-year-old midfielder. 

2018

Player Joined Previous club Nationality
Doneil Henry Vancouver Whitecaps West Ham Canadian
Jack Price Colorado Rapids Wolverhampton English
Adam Henley Real Salt Lake Blackburn Welsh
Michael Petrasso Montreal Impact QPR Canadian
Tommy Smith Colorado Rapids Ipswich Town New Zealand
Johnny Russell Sporting KC Derby County Scottish
Joe Mason Colorado Rapids* Wolverhampton Irish
Jordan Mutch Vancouver Whitecaps Crystal Palace English
Zlatan Ibrahimovic LA Galaxy Manchester United Swedish
Adama Diomande LAFC Hull City Norwegian
Wayne Rooney D.C. United Everton English
Michael Mancienne New England Revolution Nottingham Forest English

*On loan

Another busy year for MLS recruitment from England, 2018's crop of talent skewed older than 2017 and the past two years. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic followed former Manchester United teammate Schweinsteiger to MLS, while fellow legend Wayne Rooney came to D.C. United. Johnny Russell left the Championship in the prime of his career and has since been rejuvenated with Sporting KC. 

2019

Player Joined Previous club Nationality
Dion Pereira Atlanta United Watford English
Uriel Antuna LA Galaxy* Manchester City** Mexican
Vito Mannone Minnesota United* Reading Italian
Niko Hämäläinen LAFC* QPR Finnish
Emerson Hyndman Atlanta United* Bournemouth American
Brad Smith Seattle Sounders Bournemouth Australian
Bojan Montreal Impact Stoke City Spanish
Josh Sims New York Red Bulls* Southampton English

*On loan
**Antuna never made an appearance for Man City

Dion Pereira left Watford for Atlanta at age 19, just two years removed from being named Watford’s Young Player of the Season for his exploits in the academy. It didn't work out for him in MLS, making 18 appearances with ATLUTD in 2019 before player and club mutually agreed to terminate his contract in January. He's still a free agent.

Brad Smith was another interesting profile to join MLS when he did, originally joining Seattle (at the end of 2018) on loan at age 24. He was a product of Liverpool's academy and moved to Bournemouth for a reported fee close to $5 million. He struggled to break into the first team with any regularity before heading to Seattle for a strong 18-month stint, and recently just returned on a permanent deal. 

2020

Player Joined Previous club Nationality
Anton Walkes Atlanta United Portsmouth English
David Milinkovic Vancouver Whitecaps Hull City French
Jurgen Locadia FC Cincinnati* Brighton & Hove Dutch
Winston Reid Sporting KC* West Ham New Zealand
Luis Binks Montreal Impact Tottenham English
Victor Wanyama Montreal Impact Tottenham Kenyan
Dru Yearwood New York Red Bulls Brentford English
Kamohelo Mokotjo FC Cincinnati Brentford South African
Matheus Aias Orlando City Watford Brazilian
Tony Gallacher Toronto FC* Liverpool Scottish

The typical profile skewed younger in 2020, with youngsters Binks, Yearwood and Gallacher joining MLS after time in England though still had plenty of room for in-their-prime stars and veterans like Jurgen Locadia, Victor Wanyama and Winston Reid.

What's to come in the future?