The number of MLS products finding success in top foreign leagues has grown exponentially in recent years, and the new wave of MLS players heading over to Europe should only see that number skyrocket.
With that in mind, it is time to take a look at the MLS alumni who are enjoying success abroad. You need look no further for evidence than Thursday’s Club World Cup final, where both teams are expected to feature players who began their careers in MLS academies before making their pro debuts in MLS.
The SBI Alumni XI consists of players who developed in MLS, and not necessarily any player to ever play in MLS. That is why Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t on this Best XI.
The requirements for the team are a minimum of two seasons played in MLS before having played in Europe. These guidelines mean RB Leipzig standout and former New York City FC loanee Angelino misses out after spending just one season in MLS.
There are plenty of talented players who are relatively new to Europe after leaving MLS in the past year, including Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds. They aren’t on the Alumni XI just yet, but will be ones to consider in the future.
Something else to consider is MLS academy alumni, like Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie. Neither of the USMNT stars ever signed first-team contracts in MLS. Chris Richards did sign a first-team deal with FC Dallas, but never made a first-team appearance.
With all that in mind, here is SBI’s MLS Alumni XI:
SBI’s MLS Alumni XI
The Manchester City goalkeeper actually began his career in Europe with Bundesliga side Freiburg, but never made a first-team appearance before making the jump to MLS and the Columbus Crew. There, Steffen developed into the U.S. Men’s National Team starter who would garner a record transfer free from Manchester City.
The Vancouver Whitecaps academy product was a revelation in MLS, but he took his game to a new level with the permanent shift to left back at Bayern Munich. Now, Davies is one of the best fullbacks in the world and is set to play in his first Club World Cup final on Thursday.
The New York Red Bulls academy product enjoyed a solid start to his career in MLS, earning a $5 million transfer to Chelsea. He has yet to break through at Chelsea, going on a series of loans to various destinations in Europe. He has found some stability with Belgian giants Anderlecht, and remains a top candidate for a starting USMNT centerback role.
The Real Salt Lake academy product struggled to find a regular starting role for RSL, but quickly found success when he moved to Liga MX in 2014 before a stretch in Europe with Fiorentina and Eintracht Frankfurt. The World Cup veteran has returned to Mexico with Tigres, which he has helped win a Liga MX and Concacaf Champions League title, and he is set to play in Thursday’s Club World Cup final.
The newly-signed Galatasary fullback has fashioned a successful career in Europe since making the jump to Tottenham following his impressive showing at the 2014 World Cup. The former Seattle Sounders homegrown player has plenty of competition now for the top right back spot on the MLS alumni team, but his recent run of strong starts prior to leaving Newcastle served as a reminder that he is still at a high level.
The Venezuelan midfielder was a dominant, but overlooked figure during his time in MLS with New York City FC, but he was outstanding over two seasons on loan from Manchester City. He has since enjoyed success in La Liga during loan spells, first with Huesca, and now with Granada, where he has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in La Liga.
The New York Red Bulls academy product enjoyed a smooth transition to Europe after a dominant 2018 season helping the Red Bulls win a Supporters’ Shield. He jumped right into the lineup at RB Leipzig and performed well before injuries cost him a big chunk of 2019. He eventually bounced back, capping his full return with an unforgettable winning goal to eliminate Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Another New York City FC alumnus, Harrison was sold to Manchester City, which proceeded to loan him to Leeds United, which he helped earn promotion to the Premier League. The English winger’s first season in the Premier League has been outstanding, as he has emerged as one of Marcelo Bielsa’s best players.
The Paraguayan attacker took MLS by storm, helping Atlanta United enjoy a dream start to life in MLS. After helping Atlanta win the 2018 MLS Cup final, Almiron made a $27 million transfer to Newcastle United. After some ups and downs, Almiron is in the midst of his best form since moving to England, as evidenced by his recent two-goal performance in a win against Southampton.
The former MLS Rookie of the Year was a consistent goal-scorer for Orlando City before he forced a move to Turkish side Besiktas in 2018. After a slow start in Turkey, and loan spell in Belgium, Larin is in the midst of a breakout season, currently tied for second in the Turkish League with 12 goals while helping Beskitas in a tightly-contested title race.
A messy departure from MLS in 2014 put a disappointing end on an outstanding run with the Vancouver Whitecaps, where Sanvezzo first established himself as a pro goal-scorer. Sanvezzo’s move to Mexican side Queretaro paid off as he has been one of the more consistent goal producers in Liga MLX. After reaching double digits in goals in four of five years with Queretaro, Sanvezzo endured a subpar stint with Club Tijuana before moving to current club Mazatlan FC.