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.