This summer’s transfer window will have a slightly different flavor than those in previous years.
With the 2022 World Cup looming in November, players on the fringes of their clubs will be in search of a new home with the promise of greater opportunity. The flip side to that motivation, however, is the uncertainty in the unknown: Will the player find the culture of a new club the right fit? If a player’s current situation is less than desirable, is that known quantity preferred to the risk of moving to a new team only to discover that things can get even worse?
It’s a strange dichotomy for the transfer market: Players will be more motivated than ever to secure a move if it means bettering their chances of making their country’s World Cup squad, while at the same time being extremely cautious as to avoid any chance of putting their place at Qatar 2022 at risk.
It’s a conundrum that’s being felt throughout the United States men’s national team player pool. Should Christian Pulisic leave Chelsea for a club that will guarantee him first-choice status? Should Tyler Adams depart RB Leipzig for the same reasons?
And as American players become more prevalent throughout the Old World, will clubs — especially in Europe’s Big Five leagues — continue importing promising talents from Major League Soccer? Or poaching USMNT prospects languishing in second divisions and some of the continent’s lesser leagues?
To get a sense of how this transfer window could unfold for U.S. men’s national team, and those with hopes of representing their country at senior level in the near future, ESPN asked Jeff Carlisle and Kyle Bonagura to detail the situations surrounding five of the most likely Americans to find a new club this summer.
Tyler Adams | 23 | Midfielder | RB Leipzig
After beginning the season as a starter under Jesse Marsch at RB Leipzig, Adams’ playing time diminished after the American manager’s dismissal, and the 23-year-old finished the season with roughly 500 fewer Bundesliga minutes than he did the previous year. That trajectory put Adams’ future with the club in question. He told ESPN last week he would be open to a move, assuming a new opportunity provided him the right balance for him to develop and contribute. Adams would have multiple suitors in Europe should he try to force a move, but he said he’s not in a rush to leave Leipzig.
Considering his strong relationship with Marsch, who coached him with the New York Red Bulls, a move to Leeds — where Brenden Aaronson has already moved — is intriguing. However, it’s not that simple, Adams said. “He has helped me a lot in my career, but in terms of moving there just because he’s there, I don’t know if that necessarily makes sense. I’m focused on whatever coach wants me and wants to develop me into a better player. And that I fit into the team and their style of play.”
He’s the clear starter at defensive midfielder for the U.S. and the player best suited to captain the team, but it’s not unreasonable to allow for the possibility that inconsistent playing time could impact his standing. — Bonagura
Luca de la Torre | 24 | Midfielder | Heracles Almelo
De la Torre told ESPN earlier this month that he has a standing agreement with Heracles that he can leave the club this summer, a pact that was independent of the club’s relegation from the Eredivisie. He added, “I expect [the transfer] to happen, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
The 24-year-old Fulham academy graduate has looked sharp in recent appearances with the U.S. men’s national team, and while a 5-0 win in the CONCACAF Nations League over minnows Grenada needs to be put in context, De la Torre was one of his team’s best players. His time with Heracles, where he was a consistent starter, is likely to garner greater scrutiny. De la Torre’s tenure with the Dutch club saw him get back into the U.S. national team frame, although the club’s relegation was a bitter pill to swallow.
Gabriel Slonina | 18 | Goalkeeper | Chicago Fire
A source confirmed a report from Fabrizio Romano, as well as MLSSoccer.com’s Tom Bogert that Chelsea are ahead of Real Madrid in terms of acquiring the Fire keeper, although the situation remains in flux. Earlier this month ESPN reported that Madrid was put off by Chicago’s asking price, which apparently has created an opening for the Blues. Chelsea was close to signing Slonina earlier this year before sanctions were applied to the club due to then-owner Roman Abramovich’s connections to the Russian government and its invasion of Ukraine.
Any deal would include a loan back to the Fire. Such a move would be appropriate given Slonina’s faltering form of late, which has flat out cost Chicago points in the standings. Remaining in Chicago would give the Addison, Illinois native a chance to get his feet back under him and regain some confidence before heading overseas.
As with any move that a young player makes, there is risk. Chelsea is well known for its “loan army” of players, including American defender Matt Miazga. But the opportunity to excel at one of the world’s biggest clubs, not to mention the immense increase in Slonina’s pay, is likely too good of an offer to turn down. — Carlisle
As Cannon prepares for his return to Boavista in Portugal, he does so very much on the World Cup roster bubble. It’s clear Sergino Dest is the first-choice right-back, but the competition for the backup spot — or in the event Dest plays on the left — remains open. After appearing nine times in World Cup qualification (to just two for Cannon), DeAndre Yedlin appeared to have a leg up, but Cannon started, and finished, three of the four games at right-back in the recent camp.
Cannon has been close to moving away from Boavista on multiple occasions, sources told ESPN, and will again seek a new destination to begin the season. His priorities aren’t unique: consistent playing time at his preferred position. Cannon spent time playing as a right-sided center-back in a back three for Boavista, which, if it were to continue, wouldn’t be an ideal way for him to make his case to USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter. — Bonagura
Venezia’s relegation from Serie A — the club finished bottom of the league on 27 points — means that per Busio’s contract, the U.S. international midfielder can be loaned out for free for the upcoming season, although a source added the arrangement is conditional on Busio signing a contract extension. Whether he will go out on loan is still subject to some open questions, which include just how much Busio’s World Cup prospects would be hurt by playing in Serie B, and the extent to which he’s rated by new manger Ivan Javorcic.
Sources tell ESPN that Venezia very much want Busio to stay and help with their attempt to get promoted back to the Italian top flight, and Busio’s aims might be better served by staying there. He is a known quantity by the club after making 29 league appearances last season — 23 of them starts — and his ability to settle into the culture of the country is a challenge that has already been surmounted. Serie B is a competitive league as well, so likely wouldn’t hurt Busio’s level of sharpness if he’s playing regularly, which seems likely. But the lure of remaining in Serie A — or move to one of the other Big Five European leagues — may be too much to turn down, even given the level of risk involved in having to prove himself at a new club. — Carlisle