The American soccer landscape is changing quickly, and Gianluca Busio is its newest byproduct.
The 19-year-old Sporting Kansas City midfielder’s long-rumored transfer abroad was officially confirmed by the club Thursday, with Busio moving on to Italy with recently promoted Serie A side Venezia. The fee is $6 million with with up to $11 million in future incentives and clauses.
It’s a historic period for promising MLS talent as eight of the league’s 10 most expensive transfers in its history have occurred in 2019 or later, many of which were considered Homegrown Players — local talent developed by club academies and eventually into the first team. Players scouted and developed by MLS teams are quickly catching the eye of clubs that play at the highest levels in the world, with the more players that thrive after their move only strengthening the ties.
Some players that have moved on from MLS homegrown deals have gone on to win league and cup titles, make national team appearances and even earn a Champions League winner’s medal.
With the news of Busio’s move now official, here’s how others who’ve left homegrown deals for notable moves abroad have faired recently ...
Part of the reason clubs abroad began paying attention to MLS-grown prospects was because they realized that the league’s young talent could help their own clubs succeed. Part of the reason is also because Davies set the standard.
Raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and signed to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ academy, his April 2016 debut for Whitecaps 2 in the USL Championship made him the youngest player in league history at 15 years, five months. After three years as primarily a winger on the senior team, where in 2018 he was named as a MLS All-Star and the club’s player of the year, Davies moved to German juggernauts Bayern Munich for a then-MLS record $11 million fee in January 2019.
All Davies has done since then is start and win a Champions League final with Bayern, place third in the 2020 Golden Boy award (given to Europe’s best player under age 21) and be widely considered as one of if not the best left back in the world, the position he’s zeroed in on while in Germany. German-based soccer statistics website Transfermarkt currently has the 20-year-old’s estimated value at $77 million (down from a high of $88 million in Sept. 2020), making him one of the world’s 30 most valuable players and almost certainly Canada’s most talented-ever player, even at his young age.
A graduate of a strong FC Dallas academy that’s produced the likes of Weston McKennie, Reggie Cannon and Ramiro Funes Mori, the 20-year-old Texan right back officially moved to Italian giants Roma for a $7.43 million fee July 1 after originally being on loan to I Giallorossi.
Reynolds was the youngest player ever to sign as a FC Dallas homegrown when he moved from the academy to a first-team deal in Nov. 2016 aged 15. He didn’t make his first-team debut until May 2019, but went on to make 31 appearances and record six assists during his time in Dallas before Europe began calling. Dallas accepted a loan deal with an option to buy that shipped Reynolds to Italy, where he made five Serie A appearances with Roma this year before the move became permanent.
A longtime U.S. youth international, Reynolds played in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup with current Sporting defender Jaylin Lindsey, and has since been capped at the American senior level when he appeared in a friendly against Northern Ireland in March of this year. Likely sorting out his club situation, he was not on U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s heavily-rotated squad for the ongoing CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Philadelphia Union academy grad excelled as a No. 10 during his two seasons as a senior player in 2019 and 2020, with the New Jerseyan scoring seven goals with six assists in 57 appearances for the Union. The 20-year-old has almost equaled that tally since (in less than half the amount of games) at reigning Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, where Aaronson moved to following a $6 million transfer fee agreed upon in Oct. 2020.
Aaronson’s estimated value has skyrocketed in just over 18 months: Transfermarkt listed him as worth $165,000 when he became a Union first-teamer in Jan. 2019, whereas he currently has an all-time high value of $11 million with Salzburg. That promise has caught the eye of Berhalter, who’s selected Aaronson to make eight senior appearances since Feb. 2020, including being on the 23-man squad for the Concacaf Nations League finals earlier this summer. He assisted Jordan Siebatcheu’s winning goal in a 1-0 semifinal victory of Honduras, just one of his three assists to go with three goals for the national team.
Transfers between Red Bull’s array of global soccer clubs — mainly RB Salzburg, RB Leipzig and New York Red Bulls — are common, such as with American manager Jesse Marsch, who has managed all three. He moved from Salzburg to Leipzig in the offseason and could bring along Aaronson with him, pairing him with fellow Americans in Tyler Adams and later, former Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark, who moved to Leipzig but is loaned back to Red Bulls for the remainder of the MLS season.
The last time the U.S. Men’s National Team was participating in CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in 2017, Mark McKenzie was playing college soccer at Wake Forest after an academy career with Philadelphia Union. Four years later, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the 22-year-old be a starter at center back for the United States once World Cup qualifiers return in September.
McKenzie had a career-defining year with the Union in 2020, being a rock in their back line as he helped Philadelphia with the Supporters’ Shield while himself earning a nomination to the MLS Best XI. His body of work in MLS satisfied Belgian club Genk to pay a $6 million transfer fee for him in January, of which he’s made 17 appearances in all competitions while helping the team win the Belgian Cup this year.
But it’s his recent developments with the American national team that have perhaps drawn the most attention. He started and played every minute of both the Nations League semifinal against Honduras and final against Mexico, pairing at center back with USMNT veteran John Brooks as the U.S. won both matches and the inaugural edition of the tournament. One of the country’s best defenders, he’ll likely be in the hunt for the spot opposite Brooks in the right center back role and be selected for the 23-man squad for qualifiers.