In recent years, Major League Soccer (MLS) has shifted from a league of American internationals and aging stars looking to collect a paycheck and sell a few jerseys to an incubator for young foreign and American talent. As players like Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Tyler Adams look to move to Europe, and Jack Harrison and Erik Palmer-Brown have recently moved to England, young talent is mastering its craft stateside before heading to the top leagues.
Just days away from his 18th birthday, Alphonso Davies is arguably the most talented of the bunch. He has the potential to reach world-class status before he turns 20. Although this wave of young players is generating excitement and blazing trails across the Atlantic, they are not the first to do so.
As Bayern Munich fans eagerly await the arrival of the Canadian starlet, curiosity over his ability to make the next step in his promising career has been peaked. So, how have others fared in their exploits across the pond? Let’s take a look at 8 high-profile transfers from the US to Europe. (Note: This list is not all-inclusive.)
Ah, Freddy Adu, the original savior of American soccer and one of the biggest transfer busts of the 21st century. The hype around the young American reached unprecedented levels, and he truly had the weight of a nation placed on his shoulders. Following a move to SL Benfica at just 18 years old, the attacking prodigy could not find his form in Portugal, appearing only 11 times and spending time on loan at four different clubs in four years. Since then, Adu has bounced around the globe with stops in the MLS and currently (at the age of 29) in the USL.
Despite Donovan’s incredible record for the US Men’s National Team and his dominance in MLS, he never reached those heights in Europe. Beginning his professional career in Germany at Bayer Leverkusen, Donovan struggled to break into the first team despite his clear potential. Leverkusen eventually cut ties, and Donovan kicked on in the MLS. After a run of dominating seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, Donovan attempted to return to the Bundesliga with a host of goals under his belt. In a short loan spell with Bayern Munich, Donovan was completely out of his element and failed to impress. Although he had a few brief loan spells with Everton, Donovan found success in his comfort zone. The American international had obvious quality, but it never really panned out for the attacker abroad.
Tim Howard made one of the smoothest transitions to European football following his transfer from the Metro Stars to Manchester United when he was 24. At times, Howard asserted himself as Sir Alex Ferguson’s first choice keeper, but injuries and the arrival of Edwin van der Sar spelled the end of his time with the Red Devils after four relatively successful years. After a year-long loan with Everton, the American keeper joined the Merseyside club permanently, where he served as the first choice keeper for 11 years, picking up over 350 caps for the Toffees.
Clint Dempsey, following in the footsteps of Brian McBride, joined Fulham in 2007. Dempsey, like McBride, immediately endeared himself to fans at Craven Cottage as a relentless worker and lethal goalscorer. During his time at Fulham, the American forward racked up 60 goals in 232 appearances, including a match-winning strike against Juventus during Fulham’s improbable run to the Europa League Final. The Texas-native earned a move to Tottenham Hotspur after a battle with Liverpool over his services. He didn’t quite meet expectations, scoring 12 goals in all competitions in his only season with Spurs. After a brief stint back with Fulham, Dempsey returned to the United States where he finished his career just recently with the Seattle Sounders.
Jozy Altidore divides opinions among American soccer fans. He has done that almost everywhere he has gone throughout his career, both justly and unjustly. At age 18, Altidore moved to Spain to ply his trade for Villareal. The young striker failed to break into the first team, spending time on loan throughout Europe. After three seasons on the books with Villareal, Altidore moved the Eredivisie in a bid to jump-start his career with AZ Alkmaar. The powerful front man did just that, scoring 51 goals in two seasons with the Dutch-side. This earned him a move to the Premier League at Sunderland, where his career returned to a downward trajectory. After only three goals in 52 appearances, Altidore returned to the MLS, where he has been tearing up opposing defenses with the USMNT and Toronto FC.
The American right-back stormed onto the scene with the Seattle Sounders, earning himself a move to Tottenham Hotspur in large part due to his pace and energy in attack. The young speedster found it difficult to break into Tottenham’s first team, which included Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier on the right flank. The result was a loan move to Sunderland and a permanent transfer to Newcastle. After helping the Toons earn promotion, Yedlin cemented his place as a first-choice Premier League right-back. At just 25, Yedlin is still developing and has shown signs of elite ability.
Since his move to Chelsea in 2016 Miazga has been a proud member of the loan army, rising up the ranks from the Eredivisie to Ligue 1. Despite recent struggles, Miazga has shown consistent improvement and is seen as the preferred partner for Wolfsburg’s John Brooks in the USMNT defense. The towering defender is unlikely to make the breakthrough in London, with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger ahead of him in the pecking order. At just 23, though, if he is able to regain form on loan and continue progressing as he has previously, he has the potential to be a first-teamer in a mid-table side of one of the “Top 5” leagues.
Cyle Larin was Alphonso Davies before Alphonso Davies. The Canadian striker broke through with Orlando City at 19-years-old, making an immediate impact at the expansion club. Larin racked up an impressive 44 goals in 89 games before moving to Besiktas last January. Happily, the imposing forward has enjoyed a positive start to life in Turkey, scoring seven goals in 17 total appearances.
Although the 23-year-old is older than Davies and transferred at a more mature point in his career, Besiktas’ use of Larin may provide a blueprint for Davies’ involvement in the Rückrunde. Coming on mainly as a sub, the young sharpshooter has been effective playing alongside more experienced teammates. Big things are expected from Larin, but his international teammate is one of the most exciting prospects in the game.
Do you think Alphonso Davies will have a role with the first team in the Ruckrunde?