The amount of young talent — whether from the USMNT, Canada or a handful of South American nations — thriving after making the jump from MLS to the Premier League or the rest of Europe has spiked in recent years, leading many on the other side of the pond wondering, “Who’s next?” ahead of the start of the 2021 season on Friday.
As the standard of youth development continues to improve in the United States and Canada, so too will the quality of players entering, and departing, the league.
- Daryl Dike is 20 years old and reportedly on the cusp of moving to the Premier League for somewhere between 10 and $20 million, thanks to a stellar loan spell at EFL Championship side Barnsley following a stellar rookie season (8 goals, 4 assists in 19 appearances) at Orlando City
- 19-year-old right back Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas) needed just 27 MLS appearances spread over a season and a half to secure his $8-million move (rising as high as $14 million) to Roma in January
- Brenden Aaronson was the breakout star of MLS in 2020 and joined Red Bull Salzburg for just under $10 million after two seasons (54 appearances) for the Philadelphia Union
- Other players, like Chris Richards have spent time in MLS academies (FC Dallas, in his case, and that of Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie) before moving to Europe without making a first-team appearance
The path taking players from MLS to Europe is clearer and friendlier than ever before, and the aforementioned recent success stories are merely the tip of the iceberg.
The below list debuts with just five players at the start of the season, but will undoubtedly expand as lesser-heralded youngsters showcase their talents and surge forward into the shop window.
Sam Vines, Colorado Rapids/USA
Age: 21 (May 31)
Position: Left back
Pro experience: 2 seasons (3,832 minutes)
What was once a barren wasteland of nothingness for the USMNT, the full back positions current runneth over with (almost) too much young, promising talent. Vines was one of a select few to show well during the USMNT under-23s’ Olympic-qualifying failure, and that was simply a continuation of two strong seasons in Colorado, where he has developed into one of the league’s steadiest outside backs. Vines’ range of passing — both on the ground and through the air as he looks to exploit gaps in the channels — is excellent and could eventually see him move to central midfield, where his lack of athleticism can be papered over.
Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution/Canada
Age: 22 (Feb. 8)
Pro experience: 2 seasons (1,751 minutes)
Buchanan is the typical late bloomer in MLS: he played two seasons in college (Syracuse) before he was drafted in 2019, making him 20 years old at the time of his debut; he struggled as a rookie (0 goals, 2 assists in 10 appearances) before becoming a regular under Bruce Arena in 2020 (2 goals, 2 assists in 23 appearances). The selling point with Buchanan is that he’s an elite athlete with good technical ability. Buchanan recently scored a brace for Canada’s under-23 team at the Olympic qualifying tournament and a few European clubs reportedly took notice.
Cole Bassett, Colorado Rapids/USA
Age: 19 (July 28)
Pro experience: 3 seasons (2,442 minutes)
If not for Aaronson’s blistering 2020 season, Bassett would have reached darling status with his 5 goals, 5 assists (in just 15 appearances) as he helped the Rapids to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Bassett is more goal-minded than Aaronson (more of a 9-and-a-half, if you will, compared to Aaronson as a versatile no. 10/no. 8/winger).
Diego Rossi, Los Angeles FC/Uruguay
Age: 23 (March 5)
Pro experience: 6 seasons (3 in MLS – 7,481 minutes)
Rossi might just be the most talented player in MLS right now — a bold statement about someone who plays on the same team as Carlos Vela, but the numbers make an almighty strong case (43 goals, 22 assists in 88 MLS appearances). There were hushed rumors linking Rossi with a European move last summer, but the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic likely proved a stumbling block for most interested suitors. Rossi would go straight into most Europa League sides, but he won’t come cheap (15 or $20 million, minimum) given the established and further room for growth still on offer.
Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls/USA
Age: 17 (May 27)
Pro experience: 1 season (355 minutes)
Clark just made his MLS debut in October, and he only needed 47 minutes to score his first goal — a fantastic volley from the edge of the box (below video) — and send the USMNT hype train into overdrive. While the teenaged Minnesota native still has a long way to go to develop before reaching his final career destination, Clark is the surest bet to move abroad in the next 12 months. Various reports claim a pre-agreement is already in place with RB Leipzig, where he would join USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams. Of course, an unexpectedly strong start to 2021 could see that timeline moved up by six months if Leipzig like what they see.