Another American player is making a move abroad.
Center back Mark McKenzie is joining Belgian club KRC Genk on a transfer from the Philadelphia Union. He signed a four-and-a-half year contract that runs through June of 2025. The 21-year-old will “soon be able to fly” to his new country. The deal is “worth a reported $6 million” and includes additional performance bonuses.
There was a minor bidding war among several parties to secure his signature. Scottish giants Celtic were in pursuit, with the Union turning down a bid last summer. There was also rumored interest from clubs in the Premier League and German Bundesliga.
As a youth player, McKenzie was a member of the Union Academy. He had a brief spell at Wake Forest University before signing a homegrown contract with Philadelphia. He made 52 total appearances from 2018 through 2020. This past season was a breakout year for the New York native, as he was named to the MLS Best XI and the MLS is Back Tournament Best XI while leading his club to the Supporters’ Shield.
McKenzie thanked Philadelphia for providing an opportunity. “Before working towards my goal of playing in Europe I remember sitting in the stands watching my home team, the Union, and hoped that one day I’d get the chance to play for my city in front of my family, friends, and fans,” he told the PhiladelphiaUnion.com. “I am so thankful to have been given the chance to do so. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am and have this opportunity to further my career without my coaches, my family, and the Philadelphia Union fans. I am so appreciative to everyone who has dedicated their time, knowledge, love and put their faith in me.”
Genk is currently in second place in the Belgian First Division A, trailing leaders Club Brugge by a single point. The Blauw-Wit (Blue-White) has won the league title four times, most recently in 2019. The club has a strong history of player development, notably helping to mold the careers of Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Despite the presence of several mainstay center backs, playing time should be available due to recently hired manager John van den Brom’s continued use of a three-man back line.
A fixture at the youth level, McKenzie served as captain for the U.S. side at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. His senior international debut came in February of 2020, a substitute appearance in a friendly against Costa Rica. Described as “inexperienced” but coming off “a fantastic season” by manager Gregg Berhalter, he earned his second cap against El Salvador last month, playing 90 minutes in the 6-0 victory.
McKenzie has enjoyed a steady upward career trajectory, with a move to Belgium representing the logical next step in his development. While representing a greater challenge, the gap in quality from MLS to First Division A is hardly vast, with several players following that same path and not having any issues adjusting. With consistent playing time and strong performances, he should be able to earn a subsequent transfer and become an automatic inclusion with the national team.
Is this a good move for McKenzie? Let us know in the comment section.