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After Alphonso Davies’ move to Bayern, what next for MLS?

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This is a watershed moment for Major League Soccer.

Alphonso Davies securing a record transfer fee for an MLS player ($13.5 million initially, which could rise to $22.5 million) and moving to German giants Bayern Munich as a 17-year-old with braces turned plenty of heads around the globe as to the potential talent currently being developed in the U.S. and Canada.

But what now for MLS? What direction will Davies’ transfer take the league in?

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First of all, Davies is a generational talent. We’re talking in the same bracket as Christian Pulisic for the USMNT right now, or the likes of Dwayne de Rosario and Landon Donovan before him. Davies is destined for great things and his mixture of skill with raw power and pace as a teenager is extremely rare. Now, he has the chance to become a global superstar at Bayern. It won’t be easy but he has the opportunity to take his game to a whole new level in Bavaria.

Unearthing talents on Davies’ level regularly is going to be tough, if not near impossible, but the level of youngsters coming through and starring in MLS is now at a level where clubs across Europe are cherrypicking them. Due to the relative small transfer fees, a stronger physical development in some respects and a bigger upsides in terms of development when they arrive in Europe, the interest in young MLS talent is now at unprecedented levels.

MLS has never really been a selling league with only a handful of players making the league substantial transfer fees over the past two decades, with much of the focus on veteran stars arriving into the league with little spent in transfer funds. That trend is changing with the likes of Barco and Miguel Almiron at Atlanta United, but the internal development of young players is the most intriguing aspect.

That is something which Davies’s transfer highlighted. He may not burst onto the scene with Bayern for a few years, but he has been given the best possible chance for success due to the way the Whitecaps have handled him, and will continue to do so, ahead of his move to Germany at the end of the current MLS season.

But this is where MLS now needs to cash in and make the most of the millions of dollars the league and owners have poured into development academies in recent years. There will always be room for the Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s, Wayne Rooney‘s and David Beckham’s to join the league and enhance its reputation on another level.

Yet it seems like the biggest shift in the next few years will be keeping hold of kids emerging from MLS academies.

If they’re going to increasingly lose talents like Davies to top European clubs, rather than losing them as youngsters in the academy system, they need to be compensated fairly. The plan has to be to then reinvest that cash into academies and let that trickle down to the grassroots, as it did in Davies’ case with his club team, the Edmonton Strikers, to receive some of the transfer fee for being a key part in his development.

MLS’ young stars being sold will continue, relentlessly, as European clubs realize that youngsters getting significant minutes at the senior level as teenagers will benefit their development and ready them for the gauntlet of Europe’s elite leagues. And that should, in turn, entice MLS clubs to give more teenagers opportunities in their first teams as they know that financially it will be hugely beneficial, as well as from a sporting perspective, as long as they’re good enough.

Tyler Adams, who is set to move to RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls, is the perfect example of how MLS academies can develop talent, nurture it and then hand over the keys for a fee.

There is, of course, a different way of doing things as you have Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund since the age of 16 and FC Dallas academy product Weston McKennie followed him to Germany at Schalke. 18-year-old Josh Sargent is at Werder Bremen. Keaton Parkes is at Benfica. Erik Palmer-Brown joined Man City from Sporting Kansas City.

The list of young talents bypassing MLS altogether and heading to Europe is substantial, but MLS are getting a grip on how to nurture talent and get something from it. But which players will follow in Davies’ footsteps and head to Europe from MLS?

Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen is perhaps next up, with clubs in England sniffing around the USMNT stopper, while perhaps Justen Glad of Real Salt Lake or maybe Jordan Morris from the Seattle Sounders (when he returns from injury) will be the next big talents MLS can sell to Europe and keep the conveyor belt going.

But this isn’t just about U.S. and Canadian internationals. Look at Barco, Miguel Almiron, Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez at Atlanta United. Kaku at the New York Red Bulls. Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing and even Andre Horta at LAFC. Look at Jack Harrison who left NYCFC for Man City. These are players in their early 20s who are primed and ready to be picked off by European clubs for a relatively modest transfer fee and should be ready to contribute right away.

Whatever way you slice this up, that is good for MLS’ future. Yes, the league will lose talented players, but youngsters will start to see the league, and particular clubs like LAFC and Atlanta, as breeding grounds for successful careers at the highest level. Just like the pathways in Europe which sees clubs like Ajax, Southampton and Celtic accept their roles as feeder clubs and make huge transfer fees before unearthing more young talent, MLS can be a cog in the machines of European giants.

The main challenge for MLS will now be to continue to develop good young players and get transfer fees which will keep the wheels turning and help clubs to become profitable.

It’s future has shifted slightly with this Davies transfer highlighting a path the league, and its individual clubs, can follow to deliver not only short-term success but long-term sustainability as well as enhancing the reputation of MLS around the world.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).