Soccer fans aren’t short on competitive leagues. As the world’s most popular sport, there’s quality talent to be found stepping onto the pitch worldwide. From China’s Super League to North America’s MLS to Europe’s Premier League, the breadth of talented players expands each year.
Still, leagues beyond Europe are sometimes considered ‘retirement leagues’ for top athletes looking to cash in on lucrative deals in their later years. This has been the case with stars like David Beckham, who moved to the LA Galaxy of the MLS in 2007, and Wayne Rooney with DC United in 2018. It’s speculated others, like Antoine Griezman of FC Barcelona, may soon do the same.
However, MLS has steadily expanded throughout the US and Canada. Not only has the league drawn interest from investors and fans, but also players. Not only are top players entering the league from around the world, but they’re also being developed by club academies.
As the league matures, it’s likely there will be a more proportionate level of movement between the MLS and the EPL. So, which players currently on MLS rosters could make the jump?
Diego Rossi, Los Angeles FC
With 42 goals in 85 appearances with Los Angeles FC, striker Rossi is in prime condition to make the Atlantic jump to join the Premier League. Though he would be one of the first MLS players aside from DeAndre Yedlin and Miguel Almiron to transition to the EPL, the move would signify that the US’s MLS is capable of producing top-tier players.
Rossi is also helping kindle interest in domestic soccer in the US—and not just related to the game itself. Leagues like the EPL have a robust betting market, but the MLS is a newcomer for most US punters. Currently, MLS bets are offered alongside wagers for a variety of US sports, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, which means the league sees less action than other major leagues.
Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls
In 2019, Aaron Long nearly made the jump from the MLS to the EPL. As a consistent member of the US national team and star defender of the New York Red Bulls, Long had the chops to make the jump. Had his club not bid for a $15 million buyout from interested English clubs, Long would be playing in the Premier League today.
Despite being a strong defender who was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2018 after the Red Bulls conceded only 33 goals all year, Long is a versatile player. In fact, he started his career as a central midfielder. He’s scored multiple goals with the New York team, as well as international goals in CONCACAF competitions.
Josef Martínez, Atlanta United
Josef Martínez hit the ground running in 2018, breaking MLS records for goals in a single season as he helped launch the club to their first Championship win that same year. Despite a slow 2019 season, Martínez continues to garner interest from France’s Ligue Un and Spain’s La Liga for his golden foot.
Despite his small stature, Martínez delivers inside the box. Not only is able to score, but his off-ball movement indicates that he has a strong positional awareness. Additionally, his dogged determination on the field may be enough to earn him an EPL contract in the coming years.
Julian Gressel, DC United
Though Julian Gressel hails from Germany, he could easily move back to Europe given his dominance with Atlanta United. He’s one of the most talented midfielders in the MLS. Not only is he a dynamic player capable of creating momentum with technical skill, but he’s also capable of shifting to perform as a wingback.
In 2017, Gressel was named Rookie of the Year. Before his transfer in early 2020, Gressel helped take Atlanta United to their MLS Cup in 2019, as well as the US Open Cup and the Campeones Cup, both in 2019. So far, in his 110 MLS appearances, he’s scored 18 goals.