In the past few seasons, MLS teams have intermittently looked to Holland as a source of medium-impact, medium-value players. In 2017, Albert Rusnak, Valeri Qazaishvili arrived from FC Groningen and Vitesse, respectively, joining Danny Hoesen, Michael De Leeuw and Johan Kappelhof as some of the Eredivisie’s highest profile graduates in MLS. While Rusnak has undoubtedly been the standout, both De Leeuw and Kappelhof were both vastly underrated components of Chicago’s 2016-17 season. Personally, I believe that more MLS teams should be spending more time looking for talent in the Netherlands. The Eredivisie has produced some of the best players to grace European peripheral leagues in the past few seasons. As perhaps one of the more attractive peripheral leagues itself, MLS clubs should want to be first in line to snap up a highly talented, affordable Eredivisie discard like Lucas Anderson (Grasshopper) or Jean-Paul Boetius (formerly Basel). Even among non-designated players, MLS could represent an upgrade financially and on quality of life (except for Dallas) from some of the Eredivisie smaller clubs.
Moving along to Scandinavia, traditionally its leagues have been affordable sources of talent for MLS. Fanendo Adi (Superliga/Copenhagen), David Accam (Helsingborg/Allsvenskan), and Ole Kamara (Molde/Eliteserien) highlight a long list of players moving from Northern Europe to the United States. The transfers have been especially beneficial for Accam and Adi. Both have found their way into their respective national teams. They’ve also seen their names linked to some of the bigger clubs in Europe. There is no doubt that players across Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark will see these success stories when looking to play in the United States
So to lands of Arjen Robben, and good government…Our next list. Netherlands/Scandinavia
*Yassin Ayoub (CAM, CM, CDM) Estimated Market Value (free-$3 Million)
Ayoub has been pretty close to the complete midfielder this season for FC Utrecht. Able to play in a number of positions, Ayoub’s versatility almost matches his ability on and off the ball. A former Dutch youth international, Ayoub hasn’t been able to force his way into Herve Renard’s reckoning for Morocco’s 2018 World Cup run yet. As a result, a move to North America would be exceedingly improbable this winter. Since he’s available on a free this summer, however, Ayoub could enter MLS not only on the cheap, but as one of its most talented players.
*Adam Maher (CAM, CM) Estimated Market Value (free-$1 million)
I hesitate to list Adam Maher as a designated player. However, when I saw Simon Dawkin’s name up there, it made me feel a bit better. Literally a few years prior, Maher was one of the best young Dutch talents at PSV. Seen by some as the heir to Wesley Sneijder, a combination of bad luck and claims of poor attitude have prevented Maher from reaching the heights predicted. A move to MLS could be an interesting move for both Maher and any team willing to take the risk. Out of contract this summer, if a good hand in management could bring out half the talent Maher was four years ago, any team would be bagging a 23 year-old gem.
*Clint Leemans (CDM, CM) Estimated Market Value (free-$500k)
A PSV youth product, the 22-year-old Leemans moved to VVV-Venlo on a free last summer. After a successful season in the Dutch second division, VVV were promoted to the Eredivisie. Since then, Leemans has been the side’s best player – leading VVV in key passes, goals, and assists. His skill set perfectly fits a box-to-box role, which allows him to sit deep for defensive support and roam forward to pick out a pass.
Leemans’ greatest strength is his passing ability, showcased by his magnificent through-balls to streaking attackers. His set-pieces are superb, and his powerful physique makes him a shooting threat from range. Leemans does need to improve his defensive positioning and ball retention, but he’s a genuine talent with lots of potential. He wouldn’t be the main support outlet in an MLS side, but pair him with a skillful midfielder and defensive-minded destroyer and your midfield trio will be all set. Leemans’ contract runs out next summer, so VVV probably wouldn’t demand a lot for the Dutchman.
*Fran Sol (ST) Estimated Market Value ($500k-$1.5m)
One of the most heartwarming stories this season has to be that of Spanish striker Fran Sol. The 25-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October. Somehow, the Willem II striker only missed two matches to recover from the surgery and began hitting the mark right away.
That’s what the former Real Madrid youth product is best at – hitting the mark. In fact, Sol has been the second-most clinical forward in the Eredivisie, hitting 47% of his shots on target (WhoScored). Since moving from Villarreal in 2016, Fran Sol has scored 19 goals in 46 Eredivisie appearances for the Superkruiken, proving a crucial member of a squad battling against relegation.
Unlike many forwards in Holland, Sol is more of a poacher/targetman than a member of the attacking build-up – he has only completed three assists in his Eredivisie career. However, if the Spaniard receives a quality cross, chances are he’ll do a good job with it in the box. Half of Fran Sol’s shots are with his head – despite being only 1.8m (5’10”) tall – and frequently occur in areas close to goal. He may not be a complete forward, but an MLS team that likes to cross from the flanks would be hard-pressed to find a more efficient forward for their system.
Tyronne Ebuehi (RB) Estimated Market Value ($250k-$1million)
A Nigerian right-back tipped by some to become a real star, Tyronne Ebuehi is one of ADO Den Haag’s most consistent performers. At only 22, Ebuehi has already appeared in 67 Eredivisie matches, debuting in 2014. A defender first and over-lapper second, the Nigerian international impressed in a friendly against Argentina last November in only his second cap.
Ebuehi certainly isn’t the signing we’d usually see in the MLS, but the young, physical defender is just what the league needs. Not only will he be cheap for how good of a player he already is, but he’s the perfect defender to slot into a dynamic system. Tyronne Ebuehi is a very good, smart defender; he positions himself well and can man-mark an opposing winger out of the game. He’s strong and a good tackler, and his 1.87m (6’1”) height is great for defending aerial balls. Ebuehi – born in Haarlem, Holland – gets forward as well. Often found overlapping the right-winger, the Nigerian has completed one-third of his crosses this season. Finally, Ebuehi is a composed figure when in possession, using his strength to shield the ball and often making a smart and safe decision when passing.
Tyronne Ebuehi is not simply a defend-first right-back, although if that’s the role required of him at an MLS club he would certainly do the job. But what makes the ADO defender so important is his mobility in the entire tactical scheme – coming from the Netherlands, you know the full-back will contribute to build-up and occasionally make his way into the final third. DeAndre Yedlin fans would enjoy seeing another quality right-back in Major League Soccer with fantastic strength, good attacking, and a big upside.
*Ken Sema (LM) Estimated Market Value ($3million-$6million)
Much has been written about Graham Potter’s fairytale story with Swedish minnows Östersunds FK. It must be said that a lot of the success is owed to the players’ performances, though, and winger Ken Sema has been one of their best players. The 24-year-old received a call-up to the Swedish national team last year thanks to his brilliant performances in both the Allsvenskan (4 goals & 10 assists) and Europa League. It’ll be very tough for Arsenal’s Round of 32 opponents to keep hold of the versatile attacker this year.
Sema, as highlighted in this brilliant article, was the most threatening playmaker in Sweden last year (whose league finishes in November). The stocky wide-man has played on both the left and right flanks, though Potter’s system allows Sema to fluidly roam around the attacking third. This leads me to believe that, although most chances created by the Swede come from crosses, Ken Sema would perform exceptionally in a possession-oriented system.
Orlando City DP Yoshimar Yotún jumped from Swedish champions Malmö FF to the MLS last summer, which could be the trailblazing move for other Allsvenskan players looking to further their careers abroad. The talent levels may not be as high as other European countries, but gems like Ken Sema certainly have the ability to perform in a growing league in the United States. I doubt Östersund’s star man would come cheap, but it’s an investment I’d be willing to bet on if I were an MLS chairman.
*Hany Mukhtar (CAM) Estimated Market Value ($2million-$5million)
Hany Mukhtar is an interesting player with an even stranger career trajectory. A former German youth international, Mukhtar was poached by Benfica as a 20-year old. He was immediately sent out on loan to RB Salzburg, and then Brondby. While the move to Austria wasn’t a success, Mukhtar was an instant hit at Brondby, scoring 9 goals in 38 appearances. As a result, the Danish club brought him in on a permanent deal for $1.5 million. Although he’s hit a rough patch of form this season, on his day Mukhtar is a classic #10, capable of almost anything on the ball. While a move back home is probably his next step, an opportunistic MLS swoop could net a smart side one of Germany’s brightest young talents. That’d be worth a few million alone.
*Tim Sparv (CM, CDM) Estimated Market Value (Free)
Much like Juan Mata, veteran Finland international Tim Sparv is a well-spoken, intelligent footballer. He’s got his own blog, a column in a Finnish newspaper, and speaks extensively and eloquently on the world of football on Twitter. Tim is 30-years-old and currently plays as a holding midfielder for Danish club FC Midtjylland. No, he doesn’t have the passing ability of Sergio Busquets or the defensive ability of N’Golo Kanté, but his well-rounded play style would be an asset to most MLS clubs, whether it be as a starter or rotational option.
Sparv’s real contribution to a team probably won’t lie on the pitch, though. In fact, I’ll let Sparv himself summarize my feelings towards his ability to better a certain squad. “I think that we might be forgetting about the human element in players and that ‘talent above the shoulder’ skills are not as highly valued as they should be,” pens the blogging footballer. Sparv’s experience as a player across Europe, as well as his keen insight to the mental and tactical sides of football, would be of great use to any club looking to develop young players.
Tim Sparv’s contract expires this summer, so there would be no transfer fee required to attain the Finnish midfielder. Any transfer to the MLS could be seen as somewhat of a risk due to his age, but that shouldn’t be much of a deterrent. If Sparv can be signed on a short-term contract as a rotational player, it’ll be one of the smartest moves an MLS club makes all year. Oh, and he’ll be a wonderful mouthpiece for American football as it gains exposure across the world.