U.S. Defender Mark McKenzie Secures Transfer From Philadelphia Union to Belgium's Genk

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Another one of the Philadelphia Union's young homegrown talents is headed abroad.

Mark McKenzie, the 21-year-old American center back, is headed to Belgium top-flight contender Genk in a move worth a reported $6 million plus add-ons. The Union said Thursday that the "multi-million-dollar" move "could become the highest fee ever received for an MLS center back" and that the club will retain a percentage of any future transfer fees as McKenzie's career progresses.

He follows Brenden Aaronson in taking the academy-first team-Europe route after the 20-year-old playmaker secured a winter transfer to Austrian champion Salzburg. McKenzie's transfer was first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

McKenzie and Aaronson were both MLS Best XI selections in 2020, leading the club's charge to its first Supporters' Shield. McKenzie was also a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year.

“This is the right step for both Mark and for the club, as our young talent continues to make strides within our organization,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said in a statement. “With two record transfers over the past few months, it further solidifies our belief in our ideology of developing young players through our academy with an end goal of producing mature, intelligent athletes like Mark who are capable of leading us to trophies and competing against the very best in the world. We are so proud of Mark and the winning mentality he brings to every match and training session, and we know he will continue that at Genk, which gives him every opportunity to reach all of his goals.”

A U.S. youth national team staple with two caps (one start) on the senior national team level, McKenzie had long been linked to Scottish power Celtic prior to Genk's involvement. The club is second in Belgium's top flight (one point behind Club Brugge) and has a history of developing young talent before sending it off to greener pastures. Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Kalidou Koulibaly, Leon Bailey and Christian Benteke are among its alumni.

“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. I am so thankful to have been given the chance to do so,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie becomes the latest in a line of young American talent in MLS to head abroad recently. In the last year and prior to Aaronson, Reggie Cannon left FC Dallas for Portugal's Boavista and Chris Durkin left D.C. United for Belgium's Sint-Truiden in the last year. NYCFC's Joe Scally, 18, has headed abroad as well, joining Borussia Monchengladbach at the start of the month having already arranged the move over a year ago. FC Dallas's Bryan Reynolds, meanwhile, has been heavily linked to a move abroad, with the likes of Juventus and Roma reportedly interested in the 19-year-old right back.

FC Dallas also announced Wednesday that six of its young homegrown players–Edwin Cerrillo, Justin Che, Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, Brandon Servania and Thomas Roberts–will be heading to Bayern Munich to train for three weeks as part of the ongoing partnership between the two clubs. Tanner Tessmann, a call-up to U.S. U-23 national team January camp, will reportedly follow later this winter. The partnership has already resulted in one permanent transfer, that of U.S. defender Chris Richards.