5 Americans in MLS who could move to Europe this summer.
And thoughts on where they might fit.
The transfer window is going to look different this year. There will still be a few big signings, (see Chelsea’s acquisition of Timo Werner) but all speculation is that the financial from impact of COVID-19 will lead to a more frugal summer across the board.
Teams will be looking for bargains. And right now, Americans are good bargains. Dortmund signed Pulisic and Reyna for free. Schalke paid nothing for Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig got Tyler Adams for chump change. This is to say nothing of other youngsters yet to make their pro debuts, like Richie Ledezma, Alex Mendez or Uly Llanez, who may well prove their worth in the future.
But there’s more to bargain hunting than scooping up free-agent American teenagers. MLS has quite a few young players that could hold their own in the Eridivisie, Bundelisga or even the Premier League and most of them can be gotten for under 8 figures.
Here are 5 Americans in MLS that European cubs could be looking to poach this summer.
1. Paxton Pomykal
Paxton Pomykal had his breakout season in 2019, pulling the strings of the Dallas attack from midfield. Over the course of a season he played on the left wing as well as all 3 of the central midfield roles. His work rake, intelligence and precise passing, both from midfield and from set pieces, was one of the reasons Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez had such a successful first season in charge. Paxton’s production dropped slightly toward the end of the season, but it was later revealed that he was playing through an injury.
Despite starting the first two games of 2020 on the bench, Paxton came on in both and was excellent as ever, scoring against the Union in the opener and orchestrating the attacking move that led to Ricardo Pepi’s equalizer against Montreal.
If he continues with this rate of progress, there’s no reason why a Dutch or German club shouldn’t snap him up this August. He’s worth only 2 million according to Transfer Market, but he’d likely cost at least 6 or 7 to pry away from Dallas. For me, that would still be a bargain.
A lot would depend on how he performs in the MLSisback tournament this July, but with his vision, skill, engine and tactical awareness, to say nothing of his eye for goal, he has to be one with European ambitions.
2. Aaron Long
Aaron Long will be 28 in October, so he definitely doesn’t classify as a young American. For a defender though, he still has a good 4-5 years in him at least. The question is, will the Red Bulls sell him?
Rumors of interest from West Ham last summer ended up with New York supposedly tagging him at $15 million, when he’s probably only worth half that. But value is subjective to a club that consistently loses their best players, and maybe there’s a feeling that they’ll never pacify their long-suffering fans with a trophy if they don’t hold on to their prized assets.
For Long though, his dream of playing at a higher level may never be realized if he doesn’t go this year. If New York is willing to play ball, a lower tier premier league team or Bundesliga club could be a good fit for him.
Unlike a lot of defenders in Europe, Long isn’t great with the ball at his feet. The Red Bulls' system doesn’t require it of defenders, so that may limit his options. There are still plenty of clubs though that could use someone with his strength, athleticism and tactical awareness.
3. Brendan Aaronsen
To be honest, Brendan Aaronsen could use another year in Philly. He played 2019 as a shuttler in a diamond midfield, but seemed to enjoy more attacking freedom in the opening games of 2020. As a midfielder he’s industrious, technical and tidy, but still lacks incisiveness and end product. Another year with the Union will give him the opportunity to add those qualities to his game.
That being said, if the right club comes along and offers the right amount of money, together with at least some playing opportunity, he’d be a fool not to consider it.
Holland and Belgium are good places for young attackers who are still raw. The attack-focused nature of the leagues could be a good springboard to a career in one of the top 5 Euro leagues for Brendan Aaronsen.
4. Reggie Cannon
Reggie Cannon is another of Dallas’ prodigies and after a year and a half as a starter in the club’s right-back position, he’s shown consistent progress on both sides of the ball. Something about the way he carries himself on and off the field reminds of Tyler Adams, a mature, ambitious but grounded young man with leadership qualities.
Cannon’s technical ability often goes unrecognized because of his outstanding athleticism. But watch him play the ball out of the back under pressure and combine in tight spaces in the attacking 3rd like a modern fullback. The fact that he bombs forward so well for Dallas but is rarely caught out at the back makes him a top 3 right back in MLS and at 22, it’s time for Reggie to challenge himself in the big leagues.
Where could he end up? Germany seems to be a good landing spot for technical, athletic players, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cannon in the Championship or even a mid-table premier league club. So long as he avoids becoming a mercenary in the endless loan armies of a club like Man City or Chelsea.
5. James Sands
“Age is just a number -- it's about his desire to compete and the talent. He understands the game like a 30-year-old. He's got personality and he's really good on the ball.”
That was Patrick Vieira talking about a 16 year-old James Sands after a pre-season friendly against Estudiantes ahead of the 2017 season. And he was right. James Sands has since been transformed into a center-back and played over 30 games for NYCFC.
Watching a center-back that young read the game as well as James Sands reminds me of Fabio Cannavaro. He doesn’t often sprint to make a last-ditch tackle because he’s seen the danger 3 seconds earlier and positioned himself to snuff it out. He’s unlikely to ever reach the heights of the Italian maestro, but even if he turns out to be half that good, he’ll have an exemplary career, both in Europe and for the USMNT.
Current NYCFC coach Ronny Delia recently admitted that it would be hard to keep Sands from European interest, and if Joe Scally is worth $7 million to Borrusia Moenchengladbach, then Sands could go for at least 10.
There are other young Americans in MLS to keep an eye on too: Cole Bassett, Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Mark McKenzie and Miles Robinson could all use the MLSisback tournament in Orlando to raise their stock. Julian Araujo and George Bello have limited appearances so far, but a lot can change quickly in this game.
Performances in Orlando may not be the best measure of a player’s ability, due to the long layoff and short turnaround between games, but for young Americans, an outstanding tournament could lead to a concrete offer when the transfer window reopens. It’s all about seizing the moment when it matters. For these hopeful starlets, the moment is now.