4 MLS talents Celtic could target to bolster their rebuild

By Euan Davidson

June 22, 2021

This MLS scouting piece is a guest article by Ryan Lindsay of Waking the Red, a Toronto FC website. Ryan is a favourite of ours on the 67HH forum. You can find him on Twitter here.

We know that Celtic have been looking at MLS talents. Remember the Mark McKenzie debacle? The league is currently producing high-level domestic players at a record pace. It’s especially noticeable if you look at the rise of both the Canadian and American national teams. Significant talents are being bought from MLS clubs. Crucially, their academies are going on to make significant contributions with major European sides. Just look at Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams, for example.

Make no mistake; there’s high-calibre talent in the MLS and its academies. Let’s take a look at four players Celtic could look to sign as Ange Postecoglou begins to craft his squad.

Alistair Johnston / (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Alistair Johnston – Nashville SC

Someone who’s always steady and reliable from his position on the backline. The Vancouver, British Columbia native has seen his stock rise dramatically in recent weeks. Johnston’s a hot commodity, after some standout performances for the Canadian National team. Johnston, who usually operates as a right-back with his club Nashville SC, was set up on the right side of a centre-back 3 for a few matches and looked extremely comfortable stepping up into the play to contribute with decisive passes and assured, positive possession. 

With his club, Johnston provides a solid defensive presence from his right-back or wing-back roles. He’s not flashy or a definite offensive threat in this role, the 22-year-old remains a contributor offensively. Johnston is willing to push forward to contribute with his strong passing and great reading of the play. Johnston has shown in his stint with Wake Forest in the NCAA that he can certainly add more of an offensive side to his game.  

Currently rated at $2.2m US, the Canadian could certainly offer a reliable, and budget-friendly, solution for Postecoglou’s search to fill the club’s right-back vacancy [Transfermarkt].

Electric: Tajon Buchanan / (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tajon Buchanan – New England Revolution; one of the must-watch talents from the MLS

22-year-old versatile New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan has been one of the most electric wide-men in MLS. Furthermore, he’s become a fixture in manager Bruce Arena’s side. Quick thinking, and even quicker moving, Buchanan’s strong technical skills and incredible pace mean that he is able to leave a defender in his wake in an instant to create for his side. Though Buchanan has been predominantly a winger throughout his young career, he has occasionally been moved into a wing-back role. For both club and country, he excels on both sides of the ball. 

As the recipient of the 2020 Canadian Youth International Player of the Year award, Buchanan is one of the most highly-touted young players in a Canadian set-up that also includes Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. He’s shown in his recent performances for both the U-23 and senior Canadian teams (where he registered two assists on his debut) that he can thrive against any opponent. With a current market value of $2.2m US, there is certainly an opportunity for Celtic to get in early to sign this dynamic talent before the transfer fee, and demand, increases [Transfermarkt].  

With a name like that, you don’t expect a tidy haircut / (Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Michael Baldisimo – Vancouver Whitecaps; an MLS superstar in the making

You’d be hard-pressed to find many players in MLS that strike a ball as sweetly as 21-year-old Michael Baldisimo does. The Whitecaps defensive midfielder is pinpoint with his crosses, set-piece deliveries, and his passing. If secondary assists were tracked, Baldisimo’s contributions would be off the charts. So far this season, Baldisimo has registered an 88.9% passing success rate for the struggling Whitecaps, including a 78.1%  success rate for his long passes and looks set to become one of the most influential players Vancouver has [MLS]

In a side that struggled to advance the ball and show a creative spark in the final third in 2020, Baldisimo’s emergence into the squad has made an immense difference in their approach and their effectiveness going forward.  Baldisimo would be a valuable asset for Celtic to add to open up defences. Or, to find that cutting pass that could turn a game. At 5’6”, the diminutive defensive midfielder is surprisingly combative and effective behind the ball. Baldisimo shows a fearlessness about getting stuck in to tackles. Currently valued at only $660,000 US, Big Ange could grab an absolute bargain on a player who could help make his new-look midfield tick [Transfermarkt].

Timbers man Eryk Williamson / (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Eryk Williamson – Portland Timbers 

Eryk Williamson broke into the Portland team in a big way last season, with the dynamic midfielder registering 3 goals and 5 assists in 21 appearances after only featuring in 234 minutes of match-time over the two prior seasons combined, and his influence within the Cascadian side only looks to be growing in 2021 [MLS]. He showed an excellent ability to patrol the midfield in a box-to-box role. You sense he’d thrive beside a holding midfielder, like Ismaila Soro. However, Williamson’s responsibilities are expanded in 2021. The Virginia-born midfielder is being tasked with not only playing in that ‘no.8’ role. Furthermore, he’s shone also as a dynamic holding midfielder and as a creative no.10.

To succeed and be effective in these varied roles, Williamson has to display elite vision. He has had to exhibit his precise decision making and reading of the game. Inevitably, the newly minted 24-year-old has done so in spades. Williamson shows a high level of confidence progressing the ball as a ball carrier, bypassing the third-most defenders on the dribble in the league on average, completing 69% of his dribbles, and ranking seventh in the league in progressive passes on those dribbles [MLS]. Williamson also has a well above average passing completion percentage at 87.7%, and a decisive 82.2% passing percentage in the opposition half [MLS]. The midfielder is currently valued at $1.10m US, which would present Celtic with great value for money for a player of his calibre [Transfermarkt].

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