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Report: Belgian side Genk targeting USMNT defender McKenzie

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Mark McKenzie is coming off his best MLS season yet and reportedly has a new European suitor in the mix for his services.

Belgian Pro League side Genk has joined the race for the Philadelphia Union and U.S. Men’s National Team defender, VoetbalPrimeur reported Monday. Genk is currently second in the league table behind leaders Club Brugge and McKenzie’s arrival would give them a boost on the backline.

The 21-year-old defender is coming off his best season with the Union, finishing as a finalist for the MLS Defender of the Year award and helping his club win the 2020 Supporters’ Shield. McKenzie has been on the radar of Scottish Premiership side Celtic for most of 2020 as well, with several Premier League and Bundesliga clubs also reportedly in the mix for his signature.

“It’s out there — my goal is to play in the Champions League, play against the best players in the world, win trophies,” McKenzie said in an interview with Sky Sports. “That’s my goal and those are my personal ambitions. Obviously right now I’m still a Union player but I hope in the near future that I find myself in the situation where I can make the jump and put myself forward in those important matches.”

Since debuting for the Union’s first team in 2018, the New York native has totaled 51 combined league appearances for Jim Curtin’s side. He scored his first two career league goals this season while also chipping in three assists.

Internationally, McKenzie closed the year by making his first start for the USMNT in a 6-0 friendly win over El Salvador, which was also his second cap of the 2020 calendar year. He is also eligible for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, who will be taking part in Olympic Qualifying in 2021.

Should McKenzie make the move to Genk in the January Transfer Window, he will join Brenden Aaronson as the second Union homegrown player to move to Europe this offseason.

Genk returns to league play on January 6th at Eupen.

Comments

  1. Anyone who thinks Genk isn’t a good move is severely lacking in knowledge of European football as a whole. There is no way in hell this is a lateral move.

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  2. Genk. Now there’s a team that could use a better back line. Jesse Marsch and Co. mauled them in Champions League if I remember correctly.

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  3. Waiting for the delusion brigade to show up and say that this is some kind of lateral move. It isn’t. McKenzie will have to train harder, will face better attacking players, have to grow tactically, and will absolutely improve beyond his current level if he goes there. I think this is a great move. The level is higher, but not so high that it’s like throwing him into shark-infested waters. I think a reasonable expectation is for him to become first choice there and build up some solid performances and potentially attract more attention after a few seasons.

    MLS is becoming quite the starting point for good, young talent. It’s pretty incredible that a league that is so young (we sometimes forget just how young it is compared to other leagues) has come so far. I’m excited to see how our boy at RB Salzburg does in January and see if he develops into what we think he can be under Marsch. I think MLS is a great place now for teenagers and players early in their careers to get opportunities to play and then engineer a move abroad while they’re still developing. It’s not a great place to stay long term if a player wants to become truly elite yet, but maybe someday it will. I think many US fans think a bit too much of the league, while others think too little of it, and the sentiments seem to be of two extreme that are equally caricatured and unrealistic.

    I hope to see McKenzie do well, and quickly. It would be nice to have a spoil of riches at the CB position who are actually playing against very good competition, at a high level, and with a strong tactical sense going into a World Cup or major tournament. The more options we have, the deeper and better we will be!

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    • Genuine question: for those familiar with both the Scottish Premier League and Belgium, is one better than the other? The SPL’s reputation for years was that there wasn’t a very high level of sophisticated soccer (a lot of long ball and rough tackles) and that outside of Rangers and Celtic, the quality dropped off precipitously. But the same may be true of Belgium. I haven’t watched any of the SPL in about 20 years and very little of the Belgian league either. Celtic certainly didn’t hurt Van Dijk’s career so would be curious if that’s as good or a better (or worse) option than Genk, seeing as both offer almost a guaranteed chance at playing in European competitions (CL, Europa League, etc.)

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      • Top to bottom there is more competition in the Belgian League than there is in the Scottish League. SPL has 2 good teams, and everything else is Below MLS. Belgian League has 2-3 big clubs (better than MLS) with 4-5 that are equal to top MLS sides.
        Big difference between MLS & the smaller leagues in Europe is that there is Champions League & Europa League games that are a higher level of competition than the COCACAF Champions League.

      • Lost in Space makes some good points here, but I think there’s a few things they haven’t mentioned. Yes, Champions League and Europa League are a big part of it, but they also have a higher-pressure environment due to promotion & relegation where in which players have to turn up every week or they could potentially send their club into relative financial ruin. Keep in mind as well that, while MLS revenues tend to be very good (especially for a league its age) in comparison to other leagues, the money they spend on player compensation is much, much lower which significantly impacts the kind of talent they can invest in top to bottom outside of the DPs. The last point I’d make is that these other leagues have a much longer and more thorough history of developing the tactical thinking of players, which makes it difficult sometimes for a player with good skills and high athleticism to come right into the side if they’re not as tactically aware and developed as their counterparts. I’d say this is where American imports have failed more than they’ve succeeded until very recents. While MLS and US Soccer as a whole have vastly improved in terms of getting young player developed on a tactical level, that’s only a very recent improvement and isn’t necessarily reflected in broader league play just yet or in youth teams up and down the apparatus (there are some that do a great job with it, though, like NYCFC, FC Dallas, and others). Most foreign players have said the same things – MLS is a tough and physical league where the players have a lot of talent, but clearly didn’t have the kind of coaching they should have in order to instill a tactical awareness you’d see abroad.

        If what’s happening now is any indication of the future, then that’s all changing. But for now, I think it’s much better for an American to try their luck on Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, the English Championship (ideally the premier league, of course), France, Italy, Spain, or really any European league that is going to offer things that MLS simply doesn’t offer just yet. That’s not a point and laugh at MLS; it would be crazy to expect the league to have achieved all those things in such a short lifespan. It’s getting there, but let’s be honest about where it still comes up a bit short as well.

    • Regarding MLS quality, one should not discount the importance of importing more and more young South American talent, many of whom are internationals. Talent wise probably the 2 best MLS teams are LAFC and Seattle and both are led by Latin Americans. Columbus greatly improved when they got Zelarayan. I think the main benefit of going to Belgium is that it makes it more likely that in a couple of years he could be picked up by a team in a Top 5 league.

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      • Champions and Europa league games will always be the draw that MLS doesn’t have that the lower European leagues do. I think it’s understandable why many young Americans would be drawn to that. Plus it has to be easier to get on the radar of bigger clubs by playing in Europe then MLS.

    • Regardless of where an MLS player lands when they move to a European club, the one thing they’re getting that MLS cannot replicate is a 24/7 environment where soccer is the number one professional sport. This is one of the key aspects of playing in Europe (or México, or S. America) that too often gets overlooked. Being in that kind of environment all day every day adds a level of intensity, awareness, and focus that MLS does not currently have — and may never have, considering the relatively low priority of soccer in the U.S. sports landscape.

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