The USL is emerging as a “selling league” that’s willing to move young stars for a handsome profit, but most of those players head to Europe instead of remaining in the United States. Few players, prospects or otherwise, make the jump to MLS each offseason. However, there are plenty of individual players who could contribute in MLS.
Granted, it isn’t easy to make that transition. Adam Jahn scored a goal every other game in the USL in 2019, but he could hardly find the net in Atlanta. Robbie Mertz returned to the Pittsburgh midfield within 18 months of joining Atlanta; he never even appeared in MLS, relegated to their affiliate side. Amadou Dia, an all-USL full back, was a similar story, failing to stick as a contributor for Sporting Kansas City.
There are a few trends that connect more successful movers, though. Younger midfielders with a signature skill (Diego Luna’s ball carriage, Mark-Anthony Kaye’s tackling) tend to play. MLS is a faster-paced league, so wide players with ample speed like Tyler Pasher and Jonny Dean fare decently. Defenders with positional versatility get minutes if they can reliably plug holes; Real Salt Lake hopes Kevon Lambert will turn out that way.
The USL is full of talented stars, but those players don’t necessarily fit the mold of a solid MLS player. With the templates for success in mind, who should MLS clubs consider if they want to make a splash this offseason?