Mark McKenzie was the second Union player transferred to a European team in recent months.(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
CHESTER, Pa. – Philadelphia Union Thursday announced the team has reached a transfer agreement with K.R.C Genk for homegrown defender Mark McKenzie.
The transfer could become the highest fee ever received for a Major League Soccer center back, and the club’s second homegrown transfer to Europe, following the Union’s first transfer agreement for fellow homegrown Brenden Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg.
The deal includes a multi-million-dollar transfer fee, as well as additional performance-based bonuses. The Union also will retain a percentage of any future transfer fees for McKenzie. The deal made the Union the first MLS team to complete two multi-million-dollar transfers for Homegrown players within a year.
McKenzie will join the club immediately.
“We are very proud of Mark and his achievements over his three professional seasons with the Union and during his time at our academy,” Union principal owner Jay Sugarman said in a statement. “Player development, specifically within our academy and youth organizations, is a core pillar of our long-term strategy and Mark’s journey is one we hope will inspire many others in our academy pipeline. The past five years of investment have enabled us to build a growing reputation for developing young players and our two recent homegrown transfers show our commitment to helping players reach their full potential. I wish Mark all the best at K.R.C Genk and I know he will make the Union and the city of Philadelphia proud as he continues his journey.”
Born in the Bronx, McKenzie moved to Bear, Del. when he was five-years-old. He joined Union Juniors at age 11. He was a member of the Union Academy Under-13/14 team for its inaugural season. After committing to Wake Forest University his junior year and attending and playing for the Demon Deacons for one semester, McKenzie decided to turn professional, signing a Homegrown Player deal Jan. 18, 2018.
“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 in a statement. “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. I specifically want to thank God, my family, the club, and the city. The city and the Union will always be a part of me, and the future looks nothing but bright for myself and this club.”
McKenzie made his Union debut April 13, 2018 and throughout his three seasons with the club scored two goals and recorded three assists in 48 matches, 46 of which he has started. This past season, McKenzie was awarded with an MLS Best XI honor, was the runner up for MLS defender of the year after winning the player vote and was also named to the MLS is Back Tournament Best XI. He made MLS team of the week four times in 2020.
He earned his first senior U.S. men’s national team call-up in January 2019 following appearances at multiple levels of the youth national team setup, including the U-18s, U-20s and U-23s. He was named captain of the 2019 U-20 World Cup team, where he led the team to the quarterfinals, and was subsequently called up once again to the senior team for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches in October 2019. He earned his first senior cap in a friendly against Costa Rica (Feb. 1, 2020), where he came off the bench in the 1-0 victory and most recently earned his second cap when he started for the National Team in a 6-0 win past El Salvador (Dec. 9, 2020).
The 21-year-old defender will join K.R.C Genk, which is in second place in Belgium’s first division. The club has won six Belgian Cups and won the Belgian league in 2019, the same year they qualified for Champions League. The club is known for its impressive development of players like Kevin De Bruyne, Leon Bailey, Alejandro Pozuelo and Kalidou Koulibaly, who is currently regarded as one of the best center backs in the world.