Many young American soccer players aspire to play professionally in Europe. This January transfer window saw a lot of young Americans achieve their dreams. This goes to show that MLS’ commitment to academies and developing young players has proved to turn a profit and become a benefit of playing in the league. As each season goes on, more and more homegrown players have been sold as European clubs start to key in on American and Canadian talent. We’ve seen big clubs like Bayern Munich and Manchester City come in for young talent from MLS. This has established MLS as a good league for development for young players and where young players can play for a few years before securing a big move.
Someone like Ricardo Pepi, who has gone through the FC Dallas Academy, played for the USL team and then showed his talent for the first team got a big move to Augsburg. Augsburg shattered their club record to bring in the young American striker. It’s a win-win for both the club and player. Pepi gets his move to Europe while FC Dallas gets to keep the entire $18 million fee because Ricardo Pepi was signed as a homegrown player. This rule was recently implemented for MLS teams to be encouraged to sign homegrown players and play them in hopes to get them a big transfer to Europe. Pepi became the most expensive American sold in MLS history, while being the 2nd most expensive MLS sale behind Miguel Almirón’s transfer to Newcastle in 2019.
Pepi isn’t the only national team striker to get a move to Europe. Daryl Dike also got his move to Europe to West Bromwich Albion, who play in England’s 2nd division. Dike’s path to Europe was a bit different than Pepi’s. Dike went through the college system, which has become a lot less likely for top American talents. Dike was selected 5th overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City after having signed a Generation Adidas deal, which is for college players who would like to play professionally but are not eligible for the SuperDraft. Although Dike did not make a move to a top five league, his move to West Bromwich Albion could pay off dividends as they are currently in position for the EFL Championship playoff, with the winner of it being promoted to the English Premier League. The most interesting part about these two moves is how the performances of these two will affect the battle for the striker position as the United States look to qualify for the World Cup in November.
Another player who went a similar route to Dike is goalkeeper Matt Turner. Turner’s story is a bit different as he wasn’t a highly coveted player coming out of college, even going undrafted in the SuperDraft. This didn’t stop him as he’s been one of the best shot stoppers in MLS in the past few years. It’s been reported that he will be joining Arsenal in the summer by multiple outlets including Taylor Twellman and Fabrizio Romano. This is a very interesting move as he will likely be a backup to Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal while in the middle of a position battle for the national team. Turner is battling fellow Premier League backup goalkeeper Zack Steffen. With both of them getting very little, if any, Premier League action, it will be tough for both to cement their spot as the starter for the national team by being in good form at club level.
Matt Turner isn’t the only MLS player to transfer to Arsenal, with Colorado Rapids defender Auston Trusty also getting a transfer to the London club. Trusty will stay on loan with the Rapids until July 17, 2022. This move came out of nowhere without any reports linking Trusty to Arsenal, but it could possibly be explained by Stan Kroenke being the owner of both Arsenal and Colorado. Trusty has zero caps for the US national team, so Arsenal will likely loan him out once he joins in the summer. Other MLS players who have earned big moves to Europe includes James Sands to Rangers, Kevin Paredes to Wolfsburg, Justin Che to Hoffenheim, Cole Bassett to Feyenoord and George Bello to Arminia Bielefeld.
While it’s been a huge window for MLS exports, Toronto FC made one of the biggest signings in league history when they captured the signature of European champion Lorenzo Insigne. His reported salary of $15 million is more than double the previous record for biggest salary in league history. Insigne is a great player who featured on Italy’s triumphant run in last summer’s European Championship. Italy are still vying for a spot in the World Cup after having failed to qualify in the group stages. Insigne will need to have an even bigger role in Italy’s attack after national team teammate Federico Chiesa suffered an ACL injury which will cause him to miss the World Cup Qualifying playoffs.
Just five years ago, MLS and United States soccer fans were excited at the thought of players going on trials to European clubs. Now, multiple players per transfer window are getting moves to European clubs and featuring for them. With the World Cup being in North America in 2026, it will be an interesting few years leading up to it to see how much MLS grows between now and then.
Greg Termolle is a 2L at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. You can follow him on Twitter at @GregTerm.