Major League Soccer is typically regarded as a place for high-profile, ageing footballers to go and enjoy the remainder of their careers, playing against lesser opposition.
However, the reputation of MLS football has been steadily increasing, as a result of the ever-improving quality of football. To this end, the league has seen a number of young talents coming through the system and making a name for themselves – often resulting in them securing moves elsewhere.
So, with that in mind, we have decided to go right ahead and take a look at nine MLS players that are yet to have had spells in Europe, but have what it takes to make the grade.
Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
New York Red Bull’s Aaron Long has previously been linked with a move to Europe, most commonly with West Ham – and it’s no surprise why. One of the centre-back’s major strengths is his positioning and this, combined with his tough tackling, makes him a nuisance to face off against.
In terms of honours won, he has won MLS Defender of the Year award twice (2016 and 2018), while he also made the MLS Best XI in 2018 and CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI in 2019 – reaffirming his credentials.
Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United)
Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer described Barco as a ‘weapon’, highlighting the player’s ability to dribble past opposition defenders with consummate ease (and not saying he’s an idiot in British lingo).
The 20-year-old has long been regarded as one of football’s most exciting young talents, but injuries among other factors have halted his progression. Nonetheless, the Under-20 World Cup in 2019 saw Barco take centre stage for his sensational performances.
The youngster was linked with a move to Napoli in the summer and one would suspect that clubs from around Europe will continue to monitor him with a view to potentially making a move.
Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC)
Zimmerman’s fine performances in MLS have seen him earn a regular spot in the United States national side. Further to this, the 26-year-old was also rewarded with a spot in the MLS Best XI for 2019, as well as the MLS All-Star 2019 lineup.
Los Angeles only conceded 37 goals in 34 matches in the 2019 season, with the American playing a pivotal role in boasting this impeccable record. The team eventually went on to finish top of the pile in the Western conference, 16 points ahead of second-placed Seattle Sounders.
Ike Opara (Minnesota United)
When Opara was a Sporting Kansas City player, the team’s defensive line was resolute, while Minnesota United’s was in disarray. Following his move from Sporting to Minnesota, the situation flipped.
Well, quite simply, Opara’s presence in the backline for Minnesota transformed them, helping the club finish fourth in the Western Conference in the 2019 season. Oh, he also won the 2019 MLS Best Defender of the Year, comfortably.
He has recently signed a new deal with Minnesota, but would that stop him if a European club came calling? Only time will tell, but aged 30, the defender is beginning to reach the twilight years of his career.
Diego Rossi (Los Angeles FC)
Another talent coming out of Los Angeles, the 21-year-old bagged 17 goals and provided eight assists from his 36 appearances in the 2019 season, making him one of the league’s brightest prospects.
His pace, trickery and lethal finishing make him a nightmare to defend against and the scary thought as far as defences are concerned is that he is only going to get better.
Sky Italia revealed that Fiorentina were keen on Rossi in the summer, but a move never materialised. With his sublime talent, it appears only a matter of time before he seals a move to Europe.
Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC)
Blimey, LAFC are stacked with talent. Kaye was a vital player for Los Angeles, featuring in all but two matches for his side in the season just gone.
The midfielder is most renowned for his ability to turn defence into attack, constantly breaking forward at pace. The 24-year-old managed four goals and eight assists from his 32 appearances in the 2019 season, but his overall game makes him a valuable asset.
The Canadian had a very impressive season and his hunger and determination will ensure he continues to improve, making him a potentially shrewd signing for a European club.
Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
Atlanta’s Miles Robinson had a major impact on the team, acting as a calming influence at the back.
The 22-year-old’s pace, tactical awareness, and tough tackling at the back provided a stable platform for the attackers to go forward and flourish. He featured in all 34 matches for his club in the 2019 season, but sustained an unfortunate injury that ruled him out of the postseason.
Another exciting young defender coming out of MLS, and another that certainly has the potential to make the grade in Europe.
Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids)
Bassett is another young player with a very, very bright future. The 18-year-old has already broken into the Colorado Rapids first team, making his debut for the club back in September 2018.
The wonderkid has attracted plenty of interest from around Europe, but any approach has been knocked back by his club. Last year saw Bassett train with Bundesliga side Freiburg, while this year, he is currently on a one-week trial at Arsenal.
Whether the north London side are keen to sign him remains unclear, but the youngster’s performances certainly have attracted plenty of attention.
Eduard Atuesta (Los Angeles FC)
How about one final player from Los Angeles?
Playing as part of a midfield three, Atuesta has been a key figure for Los Angeles. The 22-year-old was one of the league’s most creative players, eventually coming away with ten assists from 35 appearances, while he also managed to find the net on four occasions.
While these stats may not necessarily set the world alight, his all-round movement and creativity have made him one of the most feared players in MLS.
A bright future lies ahead for Atuesta.