Cowell, MLS’s prized U21 prospects have Europe’s attention

Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window closed on Aug. 2, shortly after a rather well-known Argentinian departed Europe’s green football pastures to move his family to Florida, where he’s already absconded with a historic continental trophy and looks ready to collect another.

While MLS regroups in regular season play after a month-long, Lionel Messi-laden inaugural Leagues Cup pause, the European transfer window (and windows of leagues beyond the continent) ticks on. Time dwindles quickly — windows from England to France close on Sept. 1 — but the possibility remains for MLS clubs to move players to the Old World before the calendar turns to September. And certainly, myriad clubs in Europe have their eyes trained on MLS’s youngest prospects as they finagle through the final days of the transfer window, filling out their roster.

For those with U.S. men’s national team rooting interests, it may be exciting to learn that a smattering of U21 prospects are indeed among those piquing interest. And for those tracking MLS’s emergence as a talent producer in the global transfer market, you may be excited to learn of international interest in players born outside these shores but now plying their trade in the U.S. and Canada.

With confirmation from clubs domestically and contacts in Europe, the following are a few of MLS’s brightest U21 prospects garnering significant interest from abroad, and a breakdown of what makes them so appealing from ESPN’s resident scout and former scouting director of AS Monaco Tor-Kristian Karlsen.

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The physical force of Cowell on the wing has attracted excitement domestically and scouts internationally as the ’03 talent collects top minutes in MLS and with the U.S. national teams (mostly at youth level, although recently with the senior team as well during this summer’s Gold Cup). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Quakes have been in contact with multiple clubs regarding Cowell.

As first reported by The Athletic and later confirmed by ESPN, the most ardent recent interest comes from Bologna in Serie A. And while negotiations seemed to be ongoing, Bologna have since signed Sweden international Jesper Karlsson, who may fill a similar role, perhaps calling the remaining viability of the move into question.

“Widely considered among the top American prospects born in the 2000s, Cowell is an energetic, movement-based attacker who prefers cutting in his right foot from the left,” Karlsen said. “Rarely short of confidence, he backs up high-level technical ability with a fine understanding of combinational interchanges and high-speed dribbles. As soon as he adds more end product, his definite breakout could be imminent.”

McGlynn, renowned for picking out perfect passes like this one from Leagues Cup action, is another name that’s long caught the interest. Clubs in the Netherlands and England appear to be high among them, although by recent accounts in Southeastern Pennsylvania (where McGlynn was developed by the Union Academy into the impressive first-team player he is now), it seems the Union are most keen to keep McGlynn at least through the end of this MLS season.

The USA’s U20 stalwart has made a name for himself at that level, but has yet to crack the full senior team.

“A standout at the U20 world championship, McGlynn impressed with his mature, efficient displays in midfield,” Karlsen noted. “In addition to safely distributing the ball from deep and picking out forward runs at higher risk, he’s also diligent in his defensive work and positions himself well for ball regains. A consistent, reliable midfielder who keeps developing his game.”

Still just 18 years old, Wiley has impressed in a starting role this year, contributing four goals and two assists across 21 appearances. And although as The Athletic first reported, bids were made this summer, it seems unlikely the player will leave Atlanta within the next week. ESPN sources confirm that interest overseas continues, though, with a move likely in the future.

“An exceptionally athletic left-back who can also be deployed further up the pitch as a traditional winger, Wiley’s attacking instinct sees him constantly providing passing options on the left, just as he consistently pushes forward and travels extremely well with the ball once in possession,” Karlsen said. “Equipped with fine ball control, he creates danger with fine crossing abilities and a precise strike on the ball.”

Speaking of European interest in Wiley, Manchester United were reportedly at Lumen Field last weekend as his Atlanta United traveled to Seattle to take on the Sounders. According to multiple reports, United were there not simply to scout Wiley, but also Vargas along with Seattle-born midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting.

The Sounders Academy (and club) is esteemed for good reason, and Vargas is among their most exciting homegrown talents, with ESPN sources confirming interest from continental clubs beyond Man United.

“Blessed with remarkable tactical understanding and vision for his age, Vargas is capable of directing the flow of the game from midfield,” Karlsen added. “While not the most physical of midfielders, he still features fine balance and evades challenges by smart positioning. Vargas retains the ball well, too, and can potentially develop into a high-level playmaker.”

Velasco has been linked to clubs from the Premier League on down since before Dallas scooped him up from Independiente in 2022. The dynamic winger and youth international with Argentina remains on European lists as he’s scored two goals (including this rocket strike against Sporting Kansas City) and provided two assists across 20 appearances this season.

Anything immediate here is unlikely, but interest remains strong from abroad and a move down the line does seem probable.

“With his intense, fearless and intuitive style, Velasco couldn’t be anything other than Argentinian,” Karlsen said. “At his most dangerous when he sets off infield from wide left, it can seem as if the drifting winger makes it up as he goes along, but in truth, his unpredictable accelerations — paired with a rocket of a right-footed shot — make him a consistent threat and a nightmare to defend against. Always positive in his play, Velasco is a strong ball carrier and often responds with a tackle when he loses possession.”

Sources told ESPN of several other young talents attracting interest from clubs on the other side of the Atlantic, such as Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew), Andres Gomez (Real Salt Lake), Daniel Edelman (New York Red Bulls), Miguel Perez (St. Louis City SC) and Brian Gutierrez (Chicago Fire). That said, interest may not be enough for these players to book flights to Europe by Sept. 2.

In many cases, that interest has not yet solidified into a concrete offer. Sometimes negotiations stall due to asking price. In a few cases, clubs may prefer players finish at least this season domestically.

Importantly, while the dream of moving to Europe permeates the aspirations of America’s young and talented player pool, getting the timing and the club right is essential for the player’s development.

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