What a year 2021 was for the United States men’s national team, winning two trophies against Mexico and beating El Tri another time as Gregg Berhalter’s team has set itself up well in pursuit of World Cup 2022 qualification. While last year produced some memorable moments, it’s all now about getting better ahead of qualifying in Concacaf returning in January. And so far, the first days of the year have also been good to the red, white and blue.
Three young pieces of the USMNT have earned moves from Major League Soccer to Europe within the last few days. Strikers Ricardo Pepi and Darryl Dike, as well as midfielder James Sands, have all decided to cross the Atlantic to further their careers, with this being Dike’s second spell. The former Orlando City man had a successful loan spell at Championship side Barnsley and is back in the English second division once again.
Here’s a look at the moves, what they mean and a grade for each:
Ricardo Pepi, Augsburg
Previous club: FC Dallas
Type of move: Permanent transfer
Price: $20 million
Analysis: The most expensive American export from MLS to Europe in history. The 18-year-old star striker was courted by some of the world’s biggest clubs yet ended up at … Augsburg? Looking for minutes, a league where he can develop and a club that could be a stepping stone later on, nobody really saw this one coming. It looked like Wolfsburg were in the driver’s seat until they weren’t, and there came little Augsburg, fighting relegation by putting their money where their mouth is. For Pepi, there is no doubt it is a risk. The exposure won’t be there like it would be at a big club. He likely won’t get a taste of European competition until his next move, and he will probably have fewer opportunities to shine without Champions League and Europa League, while Augsburg are already out of the German Cup. He’s going to get those minutes this season, and if he shines, don’t be shocked if there is noise about clubs wanting him in the summer.
Daryl Dike, West Bromwich
Previous club: Orlando City SC
Type of move: Permanent transfer
Price: $9.5 million, according to according to ESPN
Analysis: He finally got his permanent move, and boy was it deserved after all he’s done in MLS and with his time last season at Barnsley in the Championship. I love this situation for him and he has a massive chance to improve his stock. While West Brom are sitting in a promotion playoff spot right now with 42 points, they are the worst attack in the top six with only 31 goals in 25 games. By comparison, Fulham have two games less played, three more points and 20 more goals. So, that shows that they need an impact forward who can work with Karlan Grant (nine goals in 24 games) and boost this attack en route to what they hope is Premier League promotion. His physical style is perfect for English soccer, and I think he’ll have a similar impact at West Brom to what he did at Barnsley (nine goals in 22 games).
James Sands, Rangers
Previous club: NYCFC
Type of move: 18-month loan
Analysis: The leaders of the Scottish Premiership, Rangers don’t need much and even with Sands’ versatility he may struggle to get minutes. They’ve got a 16-3-1 record and are strong all over the pitch. That’s especially true in the middle with Joe Aribo and Glen Kamara getting most of the minutes, while defensively they’ve got Connor Goldson but could perhaps use some depth at CB. But at the age of 21, this does seem like a good spot for him to further develop and get rotation minutes providing depth. Now, it’s unlikely he will become a consistent starter this season, but next season very well could be his year if all goes well. Rangers view him as somebody they can play in both the middle and the back, and that flexibility should result in him getting opportunities to prove he’s ready to take on a bigger load. From MLS champ with NYCFC to a legendary club like Rangers, Sands is somebody looking to test themselves abroad and become a USMNT staple.