Major League Soccer (MLS) is on a steep rise in more ways than one. Big-name players are jumping to the league before they’re long past their prime (Chicharito Hernandez). Expansion teams are waiting in the wings (four more teams will join MLS by 2023). New stadiums are being constructed left and right. And more and more bettors are glued to MLS games.
And yet, the MLS isn’t quite in the big leagues compared to European counterparts such as English Premier League, La Liga, and others. Those latter leagues are still the hopes and dreams of many MLS stars and for a select few, a real possibility. Let’s look at the five current MLS players that could not only transfer to Europe in the near future, but even earn major playing time for big-name clubs overseas.
Diego Rossi — LAFC Forward
Many believe Rossi, the 22-year-old Uruguayan scorer, will have the highest transfer market value in MLS history — topping the previous $26.4 million mark set by Miguel Almiron when he departed to Newcastle United. In the past, Rossi’s name has been linked to Fiorentina of Italy’s Serie A.
The tear Rossi has been on this year, pandemic or not, has only increased his export value. During the MLS Is Back tournament, Rossi claimed the Golden Boot honour with seven scores in just five games. He’s on pace to earn the regular-season award too as he currently has a league-high 12 goals.
Brian Rodriguez — LAFC Forward
Rodriguez and Rossi draw a lot of natural comparisons. Playing teams is their big commonality — not just with LAFC, but also the Uruguay national team. But here’s where they differ: Rodriguez hasn’t torn up the MLS quite like Rossi has. However, he has flashed on the international stage more so than Rossi. In MLS duty in 2020, Rodriguez has a modest three goals and six assists in 18 matches for LAFC. In comparison, Rodriguez tallied three scores in his first five appearances for Uruguay toward the end of 2019.
Rodriguez is all of 20 years old so that early international success really caught the attention of European clubs. In the past, rumours have linked Rodriguez with the likes of Torino, Napoli, and AC Milan. Italy could soon be in his sights.
The form Rossi has been in this year, pandemic or not, has only increased his export value. During the MLS Is Back tournament, Rossi claimed the Golden Boot honour with seven scores in just five games. He’s on pace to earn the regular-season award too as he currently has a league-high 12 goals.
Efrain Alvarez — LA Galaxy Midfielder
The 18-year-old Alvarez is currently at the heart of a contentious battle between the United States and Mexico to earn his playing rights at the international level. In due time, we can see a similar war waged for Alvarez’s services in Europe.
Talent just oozes out of Alvarez, who burst into the MLS at just 16 years of age. His game draws a lot of comparisons to reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela thanks to a precise-striking left foot and impeccable anticipation on the pitch. However, the biggest vote of confidence toward Alvarez comes from his former Galaxy teammate
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of Alvarez, he said, “he’s the best talent in MLS by far.” That’s high praise coming from the “God” as Zlatan calls himself.
Ezequiel Barco — Atlanta United Midfielder
When Barco joined Atlanta in 2018 by the way of Argentina’s Independiente, he did so under a then-record transfer fee of $15 million. Since then, he’s largely been up and down. In 53 games over three seasons, he’s found the net just 10 times and assisted nine more goals.
Regardless, he has rare attacking midfield skills among MLS players. On one hand, he has an ability to take the ball on the outside and beat his man. On the other, he can also create for teammates on the inside. At only 21 years of age, Barco has plenty of time to develop his skills and earn European attention.
Paxton Pomykal — FC Dallas Forward
“Aggressive” may be the best word to describe the 20-year-old Pomykal. Watch him play and you’ll quickly realize he’s everywhere on the pitch — setting up pretty passes, wrestling back balls, and everything in between. A skill set such as Pomykal’s lends itself well to EPL and Bundesliga, where harsh tackles are more common. At the moment, he’s nursing a serious injury, but when back and healthy, watch out for this fireball of energy.