Slowly but surely, the MLS is becoming the exporter of talent that it once hoped to be. Within the past few seasons, Miguel Almiron, Brenden Aaronson, Alphonso Davies and many more MLS players have been sent to Europe. Clubs like the LA Galaxy are now realizing that because of this, the previous MLS strategy of buying aging stars no longer works. Smarter purchasing clubs with good youth facilities like the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas are now more successful.
Because of this, MLS clubs are buying younger, cheaper players. A majority of these players now come from South America, which tends to sell players at cheaper rates compared to most European leagues. The result of this is fewer high-profile European players, but that doesn’t mean that there are none at the Euros.
The MLS hasn’t stopped buying European players, they have just gotten smarter with their purchases. Take the aforementioned Philadelphia Union. Several years ago the team’s recruitment from Europe was just like most of the MLS: aging stars. Now, however, the team has made smart transfers such as the signing of Kai Wagner, who has gone from being a third tier German player to one of the best defenders in the MLS.
Unfortunately for Wagner, he hasn’t made Germany’s squad, but many players have been selected to various national teams. So which MLS players did make Euro squads?
Jukka Raitala (Finland/Minnesota United)
Raitala is not your average journeyman: he’s played all over the globe. He started his career with Finland’s most successful team, HJK Helsinki. He then spent a year on loan with German club Hoffenheim, who eventually purchased Raitala permanently and then loaned him out to another German team (Paderborn), and later a Spanish team (Osasuna).
Raitala then moved on to the Netherlands (Heerenveen), Denmark (Vestsjaelland), Denmark again (Aalborg), and Norway (Sogndal) before heading to the MLS with Columbus in 2017. After one season and 30 games with Columbus, Raitala was on the move again, this time to LAFC.
He spent only a few hours with LAFC, immediately being traded to Montreal. (For those of you who don’t know this, the MLS uses trades rather than allowing players to be purchased. You can trade draft picks, players, or cash). Finally, Raitala got to stay with one team for a couple years, spending four years with Montreal. He played 79 games before being traded to his current club, Minnesota.
Having played for eleven teams in seven leagues, Raitala brings experience to Finland’s defense. A versatile defender, Raitala plays mostly right-back internationally, but has also played center-back, left-back, and left-midfield.
Robin Lod (Finland/Minnesota United)
Another Finnish player and another Minnesota United player, Lod is not as well traveled as Raitala but has long been a member of the Finnish international side. Lod received his first Finnish cap in 2015 and has gone on to win 44 caps.
One of the reasons that Lod has been called up for the Euro squad is his attacking success with Minnesota. As a utility man, Lod has played almost every position on the field, but has played in mostly defensive roles. It took Lod 120 games to score 21 goals with HJK Helsinki, and he scored fourteen in 105 games with Panathinaikos in Greece.
However, Lod has played more attacking roles in Minnesota, and it has showed. In 45 games, Lod has already scored thirteen goals and grabbed six assists. Since his move in 2019, Lod has four assists and a goal with the national team and has functioned in more attacking roles.
So far during the Euros, Lod has played every minute of every game for Finland, but has returned to playing a central midfielder role. He has played well, and helped Finland to their first ever major tournament win against Denmark.
Lassi Lappalainen (Finland/CF Montreal)
This is the final Finnish player, I swear.
Just 22, Lappalainen is one of the youngest players on the Finnish national team, but already has eight caps. Lappalainen was bought by Italian Serie A club Bologna from HJK Helsinki in 2019, but the winger has yet to play a single match for the club. He was sent out on loan to Montreal, where he has spent the past two seasons, playing 34 games and scoring nine goals.
Lappalainen has struggled with injuries, but will return to Bologna in December and hopes to make a spot in the squad his. If he is able to impress at the Euros, this will become much more likely.
So far, Lappalainen has played just 15 minutes in the Euros, but is one of Finland’s top attacking options on the bench. The farther Finland go in this tournament, the more often they will turn to Lappalainen for his striking capabilities.
Daniel Gazdag (Hungary/Philadelphia Union)
Daniel Gazdag made the original Hungary squad, but unfortunately was forced to drop out after suffering an injury in preparation for the Euros. Still, Gazdag technically counts because he made the squad, he just won’t be playing.
This is a shame, because Gazdag adds real quality to any team he plays for. Gazdag just signed for the Philadelphia Union in May, having prevented Honved from being relegated. The Budapest club finished just four points above the relegation zone, and Gazdag’s thirteen goals and six assists undoubtedly played a huge role.
Gazdag has played just one game for the Union because of preparation for the Euros, but played well and looks to make an impact. A versatile midfielder, Gazdag played in attacking roles this season for Honved but is traditionally a center midfielder.
Szabolcs Schön (Hungary/FC Dallas)
Schön is the youngest Hungarian at the Euros, but has come the closest to scoring. The FC Dallas winger came on with twelve minutes remaining against Portugal with the game tied 0-0. Almost immediately, Schön put the ball in the back of the net, giving Hungary a stunning lead – but he was offside. Hungary conceded three goals in the final ten minutes and lost 3-0.
Schön, just like Gazdag, was a May signing from a Hungarian club, this time MTK Budapest. He spent almost three seasons with MTK, helping them earn promotion back to the top flight of Hungary and then helping them avoid relegation in their first season back. He then was sold to FC Dallas for $1.2 million, becoming MTK’s third-most expensive export.
Prior to his MTK career, Schön made his name with arguably the most famous talent developers in the world, Ajax. At Ajax, Schön impressed, playing 35 games for Ajax’s U19 team, scoring three and assisting seven. He also made a substitute appearance for Ajax’s U21 team, but Ajax released him in 2019.
This is a decision Ajax could come to regret if Schön impresses at the Euros, which he definitely looks capable of. Unfortunately, Hungary have an immensely tricky group, having lost to Portugal with France and Germany on the horizon. Advancing isn’t too likely, especially with the absences of Gazdag and Dominik Szoboszlai, but Hungary can allow rising stars like Schön to play and impress.
Przemysław Frankowski (Poland/Chicago Fire)
Frankowski moved to the MLS and Chicago Fire after six seasons in the Polish Ekstraklasa, which temporarily ended his international career. After playing a combined 199 games in Poland with Jagiellonia and Lechia Gdansk, Frankowski earned a bench role with the national team.
However, Frankowski was called up just seven more times and played only six more times in the two years following his transfer to Chicago. In the year prior to his transfer, Frankowski had been called up eight times.
Under new manager Paulo Sousa, Frankowski has made three appearances, with one assist in a friendly against Russia. Frankowski has earned a part in the squad, having been a regular for Chicago these past few seasons with eight goals and eight assists. However, his selection could also have something to do with the fact that manager Paulo Sousa speaks English but does not speak Polish, making Frankowski a good option as he speaks both.
Frankowski is mainly a winger, and can play on either side of the field, playing right wing in his substitute appearance against Slovakia. However, he has been known to play in a central attacking role.
Ján Greguš (Slovakia/Minnesota United)
The final MLS player at the Euros, Ján Greguš has played a whopping one minute as he came on as a sub in Slovakia’s win over Poland. However, his playing time will surely increase as the tournament goes on, especially because Slovakia have a chance to advance thanks to their win.
Greguš is a real presence in the midfield, having made 34 appearances for the Slovakian national team. In his career, despite being only 30, Greguš has played 332 games across the first tiers of Czech Republic, Denmark, United States, and Slovakia. However, Greguš has been able to show off his attacking ability in Minnesota.
Greguš has four goals and 16 assists in 66 games for the Loons, more assists than he had previously registered in his career. Since this move Greguš has also grabbed two goals and two assists internationally, doubling his national team goals tally.
The MLS has long had an unfortunate reputation for being an easy league with few talented players. In fact, Gonzalo Higuain recently admitted that the quality of the league is tougher than he imagined, and he isn’t just saying that because he missed a penalty kick on his debut. The fact that the MLS, while starting to sign fewer European players, has more players at the Euros this year than the past three Euros combined, proves that the league has more quality than most people realize.
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