File this one under “transfer rumors we didn’t see coming” in the Development Academy file cabinet.
The Houston Dynamo haven’t necessarily struggled to produce quality academy players. Names like Juan Flores and Christian Lucatero would’ve caught on most anywhere. The problem’s been in the professional translation. But even then, a Dynamo academy product getting looks from Europe? And Chelsea, at that? Someone appears to have some connections.
According to Tribal Football, Chelsea has its wide-sweeping purchasing lens on holding midfielder Kelechi Onyewuenyi, a Texas-born Nigerian-American who’s been in the Dynamo setup for a few years now. The Chelsea rumor mill quickly swept it to trumpet the news, and it’s now at a low thrum throughout the club’s underground internet transfer thresher. As if to add to the cacophony, All Nigeria Soccer called Onyewuenyi the “next Mikel,” and he’s reportedly on several other professional radars, including Rosenborg in Norway.
Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle in all this is how relatively unknown Onyewuenyi is on the broader national scene. Onyewuenyi seems to have spent the first two years of his latter youth career playing for Cinco Ranch High School before flipping to the Dynamo academy at the U16 age in 2015. His last act as a high school player may well have been a loss in the state title game nearly two years ago.
Of course the Dynamo are intimately familiar, and those coaches and players directly hooked into the DA system who’d played against Houston know his bonafides. But he’s hardly generated national buzz, and he’s only started three of the 13 games he’s played for the Dynamo U18s this season for one reason or another. The next Mikel? Maybe. But the Dynamo have certainly done a good job keeping him under wraps, if that’s the case.
In any event, Chelsea’s interest could be a passing thing, a small tidbit picked up by one of the internet’s voluminous echo chambers and shouted into existence from nothingness. Or it could augur the DA’s next big European jump. He turns 18 on March 15, so he can move unbidden by FIFA transfer rules imminently. Who knows.
From the Dynamo’s perspective, though, the heat just went from two to six. MLS doesn’t have a training compensation policy to funnel dollars back down to the organizations that developed its outbound players if they didn’t first sign a contract. That means if an academy player flies the coop without first signing a contract (like FCD’s Weston McKennie to Schalke, for instance) the parent club gets zilch. The result is that MLS clubs are (or should be) desperate to sign their promising prospects to deals as early as possible. At least they’ll garner a transfer fee in that case, if nothing else.
The result, though, is an uncomfortable squeeze on the player. Sign and be true to your club but subjected to the whims of MLS, or push aside a contract and leap for free, knowing your academy is being left holding only its hat in hand? Onyewuenyi may have come out of nowhere, but we could soon learn his answer.