Instead of seeing a stream of Americans heading to Europe, we saw a reverse migration of sorts, with a trio of U.S. national team players coming back to Major League Soccer. Perhaps more surprisingly, all three players are younger than 30.
Juan Agudelo was the only high-profile American to make the jump to Europe, while a three Americans made the move south of the border, all joining Cruz Azul in Liga MX.
Here is a rundown of all the foreign-based American players who made transfer or loan moves this winter, and a closer look at what the moves mean for them.
MICHAEL BRADLEY (AS Roma to Toronto FC)
The biggest and easily the most surprising move of the winter. Bradley was struggling for regular playing time at AS Roma, and might have made a return to the German Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen if Toronto FC hadn't stepped up with a record-setting offer that made the 26-year-old Bradley pass on staying in Europe in favor of a return to MLS.
You can understand why Bradley would agree to a guaranteed six-year deal worth $6.5 million a year, but the move isn’t without some long-term risk. While MLS has improved, it’s tough to argue against the notion that playing in MLS in the coming years instead of top European leagues will hurt Bradley’s level. That said, it’s tough to see the next four months in MLS affecting his play at this summer’s World Cup.
JUAN AGUDELO (New England Revolution to FC Utrecht)
It was a poorly-kept secret around MLS that Agudelo was itching to go overseas, so when he bolted from the league the real question was just where would he would land. His work permit appeal was rejected, leaving a direct move to Stoke City in ruins before Stoke decided to buy him anyway and loan him out.
Agudelo was able to salvage an ugly situation when he landed in the Dutch League with FC Utrecht. Though not exactly an attacking powerhouse, FC Utrecht still gives him a chance to play in a good league and a wide-open league where he should be able to showcase his talents. That’s the short-term positive. From a long-term perspective, the Stoke move still seems a shaky one given the Potters' recent track record with Americans (Geoff Cameron has been a success, while Brek Shea and Maurice Edu have endured forgettable stints with the club).
MICHAEL PARKHURST (FC Augsburg to Columbus Crew)
After parlaying a strong showing in the UEFA Champions League into a move to the German Bundesliga, Parkhurst quickly became a cautionary tale about the risks of jumping into the European elite. He spent nearly a full year failing to even make the bench at FC Augsburg.
Enter MLS, the same league where Parkhurst starred before moving to Danish side FC Nordsjaelland. The Columbus Crew have a new coach in Gregg Berhalter who wants to put an emphasis on possession soccer, which should suit Parkhurst well, whether at center back or right back. A steady run of playing time should also help him get back into the conversation for the World Cup.
BREK SHEA (Stoke City to Barnsley)
After injuries hampered his first season with Stoke City, it was figured that a return to health and arrival of new manager Mark Hughes might change his fortunes. Aside from some cameos, Shea never did quite settle in and found himself looking for a new plan.
Going the loan route made perfect sense, and stepping right into the lineup for relegation-threatened League Championship side Barnsley has proved to be a perfect place for him. He has caught some eyes in the Football League Championship, and while he passed on some loan opportunities to stay at Barnsley, Shea is on a good path to securing a potential move away from Stoke City into a better long-term situation.
MAURICE EDU (Stoke City to Philadelphia Union)
Another player who faced the black hole known as the Stoke City bench, Edu went from well-regarded central midfielder to Mr. Invisible after overcoming knee surgery in the summer and failing to impress new Stoke boss Mark Hughes.
The loan to the Philadelphia Union is a smart move because it not only ensures him regular playing time before the World Cup and a good chance of making his second straight World Cup, but it also sets him up with a well-paid option if he impresses with the Union. You can make the argument that he might have been better off grabbing one of the other European options he had, such as taking loan moves to Spain or France, but if Kyle Beckerman is his top competition for a World Cup place, what better place to measure yourself against Beckerman than in the league he plays in?
JERMAINE JONES (FC Schalke to Besiktas)
Few departures seemed more inevitable than Jones’ exit from Schalke, but what may have surprised some was his interest in coming to MLS. He wanted to bring his family to the United States, but ultimately his salary demands (which sources tell Goal USA were in the $3-4 million range) priced him out of a move.
With no European clubs rushing to make a winter transfer bid on a 32-year-old midfielder, Jones found a good option in Besiktas, which is fighting for UEFA Champions League qualification in the Turkish First Division. It is only a temporary move though, so don’t be surprised if he re-visits MLS in the summer, albeit with lower salary expectations.
OGUCHI ONYEWU (Queens Park Rangers to Sheffield Wednesday)
Another player who badly needed to find some playing time in order to revive fading World Cup hopes, Onyewu quickly departed a failed short stint with Queens Park Rangers and found another League Championship side in Sheffield Wednesday, where he has stepped right into a starting role.
Though still a long shot to make the World Cup, Onyewu has at least revived his candidacy and just might play himself into some looks from bargain-hunting Premier League sides this summer.
JONATHAN BORNSTEIN (UANL Tigres to Atlante)
The one-time U.S. national team left back made the move to Atlante hoping for minutes, but he has yet to make even an appearance on the bench for the winless club, which is currently second from the bottom in Liga MX.
So what now for Bornstein, who has made a good amount of money but played very little since leaving MLS for Mexico? A return to MLS always seemed inevitable and looks more and likely to happen this summer.
JOSE VILLARREAL, MICHAEL FARFAN, RAFAEL BACA (MLS to Cruz Azul)
One of the more surprising moves of the winter happened when this trio of players bolted for Liga MX side Cruz Azul. Villarreal’s inclusion was particularly shocking given his status as one of the better young talents in the U.S. youth national team setup.
The moves made more sense for Baca and Farfan, who were both heading into the final years of their MLS deals, but Villarreal’s loan seemed to suggest the Galaxy had grown tired with his slow development into a regular first-team contributor. Paperwork delays have kept Villarreal and Farfan from featuring for the club yet, but Cruz Azul’s strong start to the Clausura season may make it even more difficult for any of them to see an substantial playing time. On the bright side, Baca has impressed enough to make Cruz Azul’s bench.