Philadelphia Union transfer homegrown defender to Belgian club in record-setting deal
CHESTER, PA – Philadelphia Union today announced they have reached a transfer agreement with K.R.C Genk for homegrown defender Mark McKenzie.
The transfer could become the highest fee ever received for an MLS center back, and the club’s second homegrown transfer to Europe, following the Union’s historic 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 will also retain a percentage of any future transfer fees for McKenzie. The deal makes the Union the first MLS team to complete two multi-million-dollar transfers for Homegrown players within a year.
🚨Philadelphia Union have reached a transfer agreement with @KRCGenkOfficial for Homegrown center-back & Delaware native Mark McKenzie.
— PhilaUnion🛡 (@PhilaUnion) January 7, 2021
“We are very proud of Mark and his achievements over his three professional seasons with the Union and during his time at our academy,” said Philadelphia Union Principal Owner Jay Sugarman. “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.”
“This is the right step for both Mark and for the club, as our young talent continues to make strides within our organization,” said Sporting Director, Ernst Tanner. “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.”
“I’ve been able to coach and watch Mark develop firsthand since he joined the Union Academy, and his trajectory since then has been nothing short of impressive,” said Union Head Coach Jim Curtin. “Mark has been a reliable and skilled center back, one of the best defenders in our league this year. His dedication to training, learning and drive to improve paired with his passion, moral grounding, and personality off the field, makes him an invaluable member of any team and locker room. He will most certainly be missed at the Union, but I am so proud of him and have no doubt Mark will excel with Genk.
“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,” said McKenzie. “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.”
Born in Bronx, NY, McKenzie moved to Bear, DE when he was five years old. He first joined Union Juniors at age 11 and remained with the academy throughout his youth. He was a member of the Union Academy U13/14 team for their 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 on January 18, 2018.
McKenzie made his Union debut on 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 nod, 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. Additionally, he made MLS Team of the Week four times in 2020.
McKenzie earned his first senior US Men’s National Team call-up in January of 2019 following appearances at multiple levels of the US Men’s 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 of 2019. He earned his first senior cap in a friendly against Costa Rica (February 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 romp over El Salvador (December 9, 2020).
The 21-year-old will join K.R.C Genk, who are currently 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. McKenzie is set to join the club immediately.