The January transfer window closed yesterday — sometimes it closes in February, sometimes it snows in April — and a plethora of American players left their MLS digs behind for European riches. Some will be back, some are real longshots, some have very bright futures. The fact that this has become something of a ritual now is probably the most encouraging aspect of it all.
The biggest “name,” such as it is, was completed long before the deadline, and that was Jordan Morris leaving Seattle for Swansea City in the English Championship. Morris has been in or around the national team since he was at Stanford, and this is the kind of move most had hoped for then when he chose to play for Seattle. Morris has been a frustrating figure at times, never quite blossoming into the star that a college player getting national team call-ups would suggest he should. His appearances with the national team have yielded six goals in 35 appearances, and seemingly hundreds of blown chances and touches that came with their own slide whistle.
But Morris was utterly dominant the past two MLS seasons, and was a finalist for the MVP this past year. His game had clearly outgrown MLS, and the blood-and-thunder style of the English Championship should suit a player who never stops running and or sees his energy levels drop. Swansea currently sit second in the Championship, a spot which, if they hold on to it, will see them automatically bounce back to the Premier League, which is clearly what they’re bringing in Morris to help out with.
It should be another interesting study for a former college player. Morris is 26, which in normal soccer circles would be right in the midst, or even shading toward the end of, his prime. But American players who go the college route have a longer aging curve. Clint Dempsey was another a player some European clubs viewed as too old to spend huge money on, despite years of production in England, and he didn’t even really hit his stride until 28 or 29. Both Morris and national team coach Gregg Berhalter will be hoping for the same sort of outcome. While the European prospects at forward for the national team are the ones that make fans feel gooey in the right places, it’s still very young. Morris provides some veteran insurance if his game can continue to grow in England.
Joining Morris at Swansea will be Paul Arriola, who will be loaned from D.C. United to the Welsh club. He’ll finish out the season with Swansea. It sounds strange to hear that Arriola is only 25, as it feels like he’s been biffing crosses for the U.S. forever. But since coming back from a major knee injury a few years ago, Arriola has been a heavy contributor for United. Even the Championship will be a challenge for a player whose final ball can still be abstract, but it’s also the natural progression for him.
Perhaps the most intriguing transfer was that of Bryan Reynolds from FC Dallas to Italian giants Roma. Reynolds had been the subject of a bidding war before deciding on Roma, with Juventus and AC Milan rumored to have taken an interest. It’s certainly a brave new world when an American who is just 19 and basically played half of a MLS season is in the middle of a tug-of-war with some of the biggest clubs on the globe. Reynolds had only played 120 minutes of pro soccer before this year, but stepped into Reggie Cannon’s spot after the latter moved to Boavista in the fall. He’s a project, but the physical tools are tantalizing, and at 19 and joining a genuine Champions League semi-regular. You’ll have to allow some USMNT fans dreaming of Reynolds bombing down one flank and Sergiño Dest the other in the near future.
Another one to keep an eye on is one that was announced back in the fall but completed last month, and that was Brenden Aaronson to RB Salzburg. Aaronson has some work to do to break into the middle of the U.S. midfield where Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie live, but at just 20, he also has time on his side. Aaronson is as close as the U.S. has to a genuine No. 10 and can just conjure something out of nothing in the middle of the park. Salzburg has had a habit of churning out stars for bigger clubs around Europe, and Aaronson will also have an American coach there in Jesse Marsch to nurture him.
The biggest blindfolded dart-throw is Daryl Dike’s loan move from Orlando to Barnsley in the English Championship. Dike had an impressive debut season with Orlando, but his eight goals in 17 matches were something of an unrepeatable heater in front of the net. He only has 1200 minutes as a pro, but much like Reynolds, his sheer gifts will make any team notice. He’ll be back with Orlando for a few games into the next MLS season, unless he lights it up and gets some other teams in England to notice.