Big year for the Philadelphia Union.

They won the first trophy in franchise history, transferred homegrown product Brenden Aaronson to Europe for up to nine million dollars, and now reportedly are selling Mark McKenzie to Belgium.

There were some rumors floating round earlier, but now my guy Jon Tannenwald at the Inquirer is reporting that it’s a done deal:

The Union will sell center back Mark McKenzie to Belgian club KRC Genk, multiple sources tell The Inquirer.

News of the deal broke Monday night when two Belgian newspapers, Het Belang van Limburg and Nieuwsblad, said the deal was close to done. The Union have kept quiet, knowing that McKenzie has had many suitors. The loudest was Scotland’s Celtic, which had a bid of nearly $4 million rebuffed. There was also reported interest from English and German teams.

The transfer fee isn’t known yet, but since the Union turned down Celtic’s bid, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to make more money from Genk.

I have a lot of thoughts, so I’ll put them in bullet point format here:

  1. McKenzie is only 21 years old but is a total stud. He reads the game exceptionally well and has a nice blend of size and speed. His athleticism is off the charts and he is an excellent passer of the ball, with both feet. His 2020 season was probably the best individual center back season in Union history, depending on how you feel about Carlos Valdes’ 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
  2. This is a good move for him. Genk is one of the better teams in Belgium and they compete for titles. He’ll get meaningful games against the likes of Anderlecht, Brugge, Gent, and Standard Liege. He might get a sniff of Europa League or even Champions League, too.
  3. The level of play in Belgium is not elite, but it’s more competitive than what he would have got if he went to Celtic. The Scottish League is not better than MLS or Belgium right now. It’s incredibly top-heavy and doesn’t feature a lot of parity.
  4. MLS players have done relatively well in Belgium. Guys like Chris Durkin, Sacha Kljestan, Matt Miazga, and Andy Najar have all played in this league. It should be a good transition for Mark, not too difficult.
  5. Genk has a good track record of developing players and transferring them on to bigger clubs in Europe. Among them – Christian Benteke, Didier Zokora, Wilfred Ndidi, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Leon Bailey, Timothy Castagne. We’re talking about dudes who ended up at Manchester City, Chelsea, Napoli, and Atalanta. They buy these guys for two million Euros and end up selling them for 10-20 million.
  6. Genk isn’t much different than RB Salzburg, where Aarson is going. They have a Belgian core, but constantly bring in a lot of foreign players. This roster has guys from Japan, Colombia, Mexico, Finland, Nigeria, and Norway. They tend to value and play young guys.

This is another great local sports story. McKenzie grew up in Bear, Delaware, and joined the Union academy about five years ago. He played his way through the ranks, won a trophy here, got himself into the United States national team, and is now headed to Europe to continue his career.

For the Union, they make a good chunk of money to add to the Aaronson pot and can use it on any number of things. They can pursue a foreign striker or playmaker. They can invest more into the academy or training center or coaching staff. I know the typical American sports fan gripes about the idea of transferring good players, but buying and selling is a natural part of soccer and now that the pipeline is churning, there will be more Mark McKenzies and Brenden Aaronsons in the future. We also get to cheer for local guys playing in Europe and for the USA.

It’s a win-win-win.