Transfer window preview
Previewing the January Transfer window: top USMNT players in the mix
December 29, 2022
THE WINTER TRANSFER window will open next week and there are sure to be Americans on the move. Last January saw a significant number of Americans make moves and while this January likely won’t come close to the volume of movement, several of the top Americans could be mentioned or involved in deals.
Last winter saw several Americans in MLS earn lucrative transfers. So far, the biggest names out of MLS have already been announced and taken place. Djordje Mihailovic is playing friendlies now with AZ Alkmaar, Gaga Slonina is at Chelsea, and Paxten Aaroson was sold to Eintracht Frankfurt right after MLS Cup.
With MLS having embraced being a “selling league” it seems like the number of top young players in the league is at a replenishing stage after the number of sales the past two years. There still could be some movement but it seems like more deals are likely to take place after the U-20 World Cup and during the season than now.
So who could potentially move, why, and where? Here are some educated guesses.
Christian Pulisic: This is always a hot topic and Pulisic started Cheslea’s first game back from the World Cup on Wednesday. Comments have been murky (he recently said: “things can change quickly”) and much is unknown about Chelsea’s new ownership or even Graham Potter’s direction since he took over.
Based on Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth, Pulisic continues to play a deeper role that is not his preferred position – he still played well in the role. It seems like Pulisic status at Chelsea is uncertain at he’s done well to survive at this level. But eventually, it seems likely he will move on.
The next destination would probably be in the higher levels of the Premier League given the money that would be required to put together a bid for Cheslea to accept. But there is always the question of when? I would bet against this winter but it’s still possible. This summer seems like a different story.
Weston McKennie: Like Pulisic, this is always a hot topic with McKennie. The Italian media has speculated over McKennie’s transfer before and this winter is no different. But things are different at Juventus. The entire board resigned in November and there is an investigation. The team had a tough start to the season and was bounced in the group stage of the Champions League. Juventus improved to their form in November but McKennie was still recovering from an injury. In the second half of the season, Paul Pogba is set to return and Angel Di Maria (who played just seven games in the first half of the season) will play more. The midfield is more crowded.
None of this means McKennie will be moved but the chances seem more possible than ever before. It will take deep pockets for a team to sign him and England seems like a real chance.
Yunus Musah: The Spanish media is reporting that Valencia wants €40 million for Musah. It makes sense because Musah’s athleticism and skill fits the high levels of the modern game perfectly. Musah is in a great spot with Valencia and his value won’t diminish if he stays until the end of the season. It’s one of those situations where it is possible he moves now but the more likely bet is that he stays until the summer.
Richard Ledezma: The 2019 U.S. U-20 World Cup playmaker is at PSV but injuries and talented teammates have seriously limited Ledezma’s minutes. He’s 22 and has yet to play 500 first team minutes in Holland. He is a player who probably has a very likely chance of going on loan this January for the remainder of the season. He’ll have options, but typically top Dutch teams loan players to teams lower in the Eredivisie totem pole.
Haji Wright: After a strong 2022 calendar year where he scored 19 goals for Antalyaspor in Super Lig games and made the U.S. World Cup team. Wright’s agent Mithat Halis this week revealed specific interest in Wright – namely Atalanta in Serie A and Crystal Palace in the Premier League. He added the price tag was set at €10 million for Wright. This seems realistic although it is a high price for a player who struggled in Germany and Holland earlier in his career.
Konrad de la Fuente: De la Fuente is a player who desperately needs things to start breaking his way. He started off the 2021/22 season well with Marseille. He ended up starting the U.S. team’s World Cup qualifying opener that fall. Since then, it has not gone well. There have been questions about his work ethic at Marseille and his loan the first half of this season with Olympicos was a disaster where he didn’t play, and the loan was terminated.
He’s back at Marseille, but he’s likely to go on loan again with rumors of teams in Spain and France interested. No matter where he lands, it needs to go well for him. Otherwise, he’ll be in a tough spot.
James Sands: Currently on loan with Rangers and will likely stay there the rest of the season. But a decision on picking up the option for his loan is coming. Unfortunately, his minutes have been declining since the league play resumed. If they decide early, perhaps he could be on the move again?
Justin Che: Another player who has had a very tough loan dating back to last year. Che, a U.S. U-20 defender (right back/center back) made his Bundesliga debut last March with Hoffenheim, but he fell out of favor quickly into the preseason over the summer. Since then, he has been playing with the reserve team. He needs to play. Does FC Dallas want him to return? Is there another place for him in Europe?
Sergino Dest: Dest will not move in January but the question becomes if AC Milan will excercise its option to buy on Dest's loan. It's still early, but in reading the tea leaves, it seems likely.
Free Agents/Free Agents to be
John Brooks: John Brooks has had a very awkward 2022. He announced in January that he would not return to Wolfsburg following the season. Being free to sign anywhere, he didn’t land at Benfica until September on a one season deal through June 2023 and he was brought in as a distant backup as the club was dealing with injuries to central defenders.
Not surprisingly, he has rarely played. Like last season, he can sign anywhere in January but only now he does it in a weaker negotiating position because he’s not playing, and he turns 30 next month too. He becomes one to watch this January but if history has offered us any indication, Brooks is unpredictable. If he’s looking for a starting gig, he’ll have to drop down a level. If he wants to go to another big club as a backup, he can stay at a high level. Unfortunately, we don’t know what Brooks wants at this point.
Tyler Boyd: After cancelling his contract with Besiktas in November, Boyd is a free agent. He’s been in Turkey since 2019 – mostly on a series of loans from Besiktas. The winger has options and ASN understands he has interest from MLS, Liga MX, and in Turkey. As he celebrates his 28th birthday this week, his preference is likely to play in the United States and with his background and experience, he should be able to find a deal.
Alan Sonora: In January, Alan Sonora, 24, will become a free agent after playing his entire career in Argentina. His past two years with Independiente have gone well but he is no longer a young prospect in Argentina. Argentina might have won the World Cup, but it’s a tough place to make a good living as a soccer player with the country nearing 90% inflation. The money is probably best for him in the United States. As Arch Bell reported in December, he was negotiating with Montreal to be a replacement for Djordje Mihailovic but that fell through. He will sign a new deal somewhere in January. MLS seems the most likely landing spot, but Brazil and Liga Mx could also be potential.
Joel Sonora: The elder Sonora brother (a veteran of the U.S. U-20 World Cup team in 2015, now 26) has had a very tough time in his career ever staying with a club for a significant length of time. He bolted Argentina for his second attempt at European soccer. Much like his first attempt in Germany in 2016, this was also unsuccessful as he terminated his agreement by mutual consent earlier in December with relegation battling Maritimo in Portugal. Now a free agent, he will have a tougher time finding a deal compared with his brother but he probably could be an inexpensive option. It seems as if Liga MX or MLS could be the likely landing spots if he doesn’t want to go back to Argentina.
Western Hemisphere based
Johnny Cardoso: There are reports in Europe of interest in Cardoso, 21, after he started most of the games for Internacional as it finished second in Brazil’s Serie A last season. Over the past two weeks, we’ve read European reports about likely offers from Roma and Monaco. That’s a huge, huge step for Cardoso but a second-place finish with Internacional will certainly generate interest.
Cardoso will likely get more looks with the U.S. team in 2023 and possibly take a big role with the Olympic team in 2024. He will get good opportunities for both club and country, now it will soon be up to him.
Josh Wynder: The young Louisville central defender has a lot going for him, but at only 17 years old he cannot technically move until he turns 18 in May. But there will still be interest and discussions for Wynder. It will be up to him whether he wants to agree to a team now, or does he want to wait until after the 2023 U-20 World Cup, which he has a very good chance of making. Big clubs are interested in him, but he needs to find a place that offers him a path towards playing.
Caden Clark: It’s been a tough 18 months for Minnesota native Caden Clark who did not play much for the New York Red Bulls during that time. Following the season, the Red Bulls announced that the option to extend the midfielder’s loan would not be extended. Earlier in 2022, he signed with Red Bull Leipzig but was loaned back to New York. Now he is back on the books with Leipzig. But Clark needs steady playing time to secure his spot on the U.S. U-20 World Cup team. Clark has wanted to make the jump to Europe early in his career, but is he at the best point to do so? Would a positive U-20 World Cup set him up the best for that? The news on him has been quiet but there should be more to report in January.
Jozy Altidore: the former U.S. international went on loan from New England to Puebla in Mexico and performed well in limited minutes. But the loan expired after the Liga MX season and New England manager Bruce Arena said the following at a post season press conference: “I know he has an interest in perhaps going elsewhere and we’ll work with him to see if that’s possible.” Last weekend, Arena said he expects to see Altidore at the start of preseason but wouldn’t commit to him staying or leaving.
Cole Bassett: The Colorado Rapids homegrown midfielder was recalled from his loan to Fortuna Sittard – which did not work out for playing time. Bassett remains a U.S. U-23 Olympic hopeful and he needs minutes. He also wants to make the jump again, but it’s tough because Feyenoord owns an option to buy which they must decide by March. Bassett can’t really go anywhere else with that option sitting out there – but will Feyenoord exercise the option and bring him back to Holland (and either keep or sell him)? Will they decline early, and Colorado can try to find another buyer? It seems like he will stick around in Colorado to get his career back on track after a tough year in 2022, but Feyenoord is lurking.
John Tolkin: The New York Red Bull left back is one of the more “ready” American prospects in MLS. He’s young at age 20, he plays a position of need for many teams, and he now has plenty of experience in that he earned 2838 minutes for RBNY in 2022 and 2019 in 2021. Right now, the question seems to be more about when he will move? It wouldn’t be surprising if he goes in January, but RBNY might be able to fetch a higher sum in January – or perhaps even keep him “in house” with Salzburg in for next season? It seems like only a matter of time before he gets his first USMNT cap and he should contend for a starting spot on the Olympic team and eventually even vie for a spot as Antonee Robinson’s backup on the full team.
Benji Kikanovic: MLS Soccer reported that former Quakes manager Matias Almeyda wants to bring Kikanovic with him to his new club – AEK Athens. The American forward will turn 23 in January and we will see what new Quakes manager Luchi Gonzalez decides when he sees his squad together.
Owen Wolff: PSV is interested in the Austin FC attacker and Wolf will turn 18 before January. So he is able to make a move. Austin and PSV have an agreement, so there could be something brewing. But Wolff does not need a situation like Dante Sealy’s at PSV where he has been getting very uneven minutes for over a year with PSV II – the reserve team. Wolff has shown promise but he’s not yet an impact player with Austin. That’s where he needs to be at a minimum to be in a good spot with PSV. Otherwise, he could be in for a dead end there. There shouldn’t be a big rush to move him, but PSV could step it up.
Esmir Bajraktarevic and Noel Buck: The New England Revolution has two U.S. youth international midfielders drawing interesting: Esmir Bajraktarevic and Noel Buck. Bajraktarevic went to train with AZ Alkmaar this offseason and played with their U-18 team.
Both these players are still very young and both are eligible for the U.S. U-20 team in 2025. It seems doubtful that either player gets moved until they establish themselves more with the first team, but stranger things have happened. New England wouldn’t sell either for cheap.
Cade Cowell: The U.S. U-20 winger checks a lot of boxes for clubs given his size and strength. But like Kikanovic, San Jose will probably not make any deals early in January until Luchi Gonzalez has his team together and assesses where players stand. Cowell has been linked to a move for over a year but its not hard to see him sticking around through the U-20 World Cup in June before a deal comes together.
Reed Baker-Whiting: The Seattle Sounders defender/midfielder trained with SC Freiburg in the offseason and has been linked with various European teams despite a lack of minutes with the Sounders. We don’t yet know the approach new Sounders Sporting Director Craig Waibel will take with these situations and we don’t yet know if he is in line for first team minutes with the Sounders?
Marcos Zambrano: Marcos Zambrano, a U.S. U-19 forward, reportedly recently turned down an offer from the Philadelphia Union and will try his luck abroad. His social media profiles now include a Portuguese flag and there are reports from Portugal he is drawing interest from top teams there. But leaving Philadelphia where young players thrive and get sold? That is a risk.
On a side note, he also shows pictures of him wearing an Ecuadorian jersey on his social media profiles as well.