Breaking down Djordje Mihailovic’s reported move to Europe

Quick Hits
  • According to several reports this weekend, Djordje Mihailovic is close to joining Dutch club AZ Alkmaar 
  • Let’s talk about what this move means for Mihailovic, the U.S. men’s national team, and for CF Montreal
Apr 2, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA;  CF Montreal midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (8) controls the ball against FC Cincinnati in the first half at TQL Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Want more American soccer? We have you covered.

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

“When they’re dominant, when MLS is no longer a challenge, then they can move on…”

Those were the words of U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter just two months ago, referring to some of the young Americans who made the leap to Europe too early. Few fit Berhalter’s description of a dominant player who is ready to move on to a new challenge better than CF Montréal’s Djordje Mihailovic – and he looks poised to be the next American to move across the Atlantic. 

According to several reports this weekend, the 23-year-old attacking midfielder is close to joining Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. This could be a key move for one of America’s most under-appreciated talents. Let’s break it down.

Why AZ?

AZ Alkmaar is a club that longtime USMNT fans will remember as the place where Jozy Altidore found his best form in Europe, as well as the club where Aron Jóhannsson played for the bulk of his USMNT career. 

AZ is a relatively successful club that has competed near the top of the Eredivisie table consistently for the past two decades. AZ finished in 5th place in the Eredivisie last season and is close to qualification for the Europa Conference League. This all feels like a natural progression for Mihailovic after mastering MLS. 

When you look at their system, Alkmaar seems like a strong fit for Mihailovic. AZ regularly use a 4-2-3-1, with a No. 10 sitting underneath the center forward. Djordje has always been at his best when playing in a relatively free attacking midfield role and he thrives in the halfspaces. Because he can also be an option in the wide positions, the American provides versatility and creativity in the attack. When he moves, Mihailovic’s primary competition for minutes will be 24-year-old Ducth midfielder Dani de Wit, who’s had a bright start to the 2022/23 season and notched 12 goal contributions last season.

As for the level, moving from MLS to the Eredivisie is certainly a jump, Mihailovic has enough skill to handle it. Mihailovic has, in the past, received interest from teams in Italy and France, but the decision to move to the Netherlands could prove to be a wise one. In the right situation, Djordje could thrive in a major European league, but the opportunity to play in European competition with a strong Dutch side is also appealing. If he succeeds there, bigger clubs from bigger leagues will certainly come calling to help him move to the next level.

What about Montréal?

During the first half of the MLS season, Mihailovic was one of the best players in the league. 

He was considered an MVP candidate before an injury derailed a good portion of his summer. While many feared Montréal would struggle without their talisman, they learned to survive in his absence. When they got another glimpse of life after Djordje this weekend, Montreal earned a resounding 4-0 win over the New England Revolution.

Mihailovic could spend the rest of this season with Montréal before joining AZ in 2023. Montréal’s championship ambitions would certainly remain intact in 2022, but there would likely be some winter business to replace the star attacking midfielder. Whenever Mihailovic moves on, Wilfried Nancy will need to find someone to replace his attacking production and ball progression.

USMNT implications

Few Americans in MLS have put up the numbers that Mihailovic has over the past twelve months. Unfortunately, an injury sidelined him for weeks just before his opportunity to play for the USMNT in June. Without those minutes in June, Mihailovic has an uphill battle to earn a ticket to the World Cup this November. It’s difficult to say whether this move will have any impact on Mihailovic’s national team hopes, but it certainly signifies a step towards the next stage of his career. 

Since his days in the Chicago Fire academy, Mihailovic has shown the potential to play at the very top level. After finding his footing over the last two seasons, he is now on the brink of a well-deserved move to Europe. The sky is the limit for Djordje, and if he can perform at a high level in Holland, he may soon reach his full potential.