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Who is Cavan Sullivan? 14-year-old USA wonderkid heading to Man City after development with Philadelphia Union | Sporting News

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U.S. Soccer is enjoying a golden generation of talent as the United States develop talent both domestically and internationally at a scale and level not seen before in USMNT history.

Yet nobody expected the U.S. to put forth a player with quite the hype that 14-year-old Cavan Sullivan is garnering. Now, it appears that hype has reached tangibility, as a move to Europe is on the cards for a player whose plaudits seem well beyond his youth.

Hailing from a soccer-rich family and beginning his youth career with the Philadelphia Union, Sullivan has put himself on the global map at an absurdly young age.

The U.S. youth international is now a target for European giants as he selects the club where he will enter his early professional years.

While first-team football for a Champions League club is still many years down the road, Sullivan and his family must choose wisely to give him the best opportunity to develop and flourish into the player many believe he can be.

The Sporting News details where Cavan Sullivan came from, what clubs are involved in his potential European transfer, and how high the bar is for one of the biggest prospects the U.S. has ever seen.

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Who is USA teenage star Cavan Sullivan?

Sullivan hails from northern Philadelphia, PA, moving to Norristown at a young age. That proximity allowed him to join the Philadelphia Union academy in 2020, which trains in nearby Wayne, PA, along with his older brother Quinn, a 20-year-old American youth international who graduated from the Union academy and now plays for the club’s first team.

Sullivan has earned eye-popping plaudits from coaches and scouts all over the globe. Back in April of 2023, when Sullivan was just 13, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtain said that the youngster “has the ability and talent to become, I’ll just say, a household name.” But others would go even further.

Former U.S. international and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said Man City scouts told him they believe Sullivan is “the best 14-year-old in the world” before adding his own commentary that “they’re not wrong.”

Sullivan now plays for the USA U15 side, winning the Golden Ball award for best player at the CONCACAF U-15 Championship in 2023, which the U.S. won by beating Mexico 4-2 in the final. He scored three goals in the tournament, all in the group stage, before helping the U.S. dominate possession through the knockout stages.

Philadelphia soccer is in his family’s blood. Sullivan’s parents Brendan and Heike both played soccer collegiately at the University of Pennsylvania, and his grandfather Larry played at Temple before turning to coaching at Villanova for 16 years, during which time he coached current Union boss Jim Curtin.

Cavan Sullivan linked to Man City, other huge European clubs

According to multiple reports — from Fabrizio RomanoTom Bogert of The Athletic and Philipp Kessler of The Daily Mail among others — Cavan Sullivan will eventually be signing with Premier League giants Manchester City over the litany of other clubs that made an approach. However, that move will reportedly not materialize for some time.

The list of clubs that made an approach is extensive and impressive. Sullivan has been linked with Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund for a while, due to a number of factors, but it goes beyond just BVB.  Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid were amongst the clubs who made approaches, according to Romano and Kessler.

It’s notable that Sullivan will sign for a Premier League club for one particular reason: Sullivan holds a German passport, which due to European child labor laws, would allow him to play for any club within a European Union nation at 16 years old. Due to Brexit, he could only play for English-based clubs at 18.

Therefore, Man City will have convinced Sullivan and his representatives that their compensation and plan for his development will make up for his inability to play for his parent club’s senior side for an additional two years.

Initially, Kessler and Bogert reported that the plan will be for Man City to loan Sullivan to City Football Group club Lommel SK in Belgium once he reaches 16 years old. However, it seems that has been scrapped for Sullivan to stay in the U.S. to continue his development until he is of age to make the switch to England.

Cavan Sullivan to stay with Philadelphia Union before City move

While it always seemed likely that Cavan Sullivan would eventually move to Europe, the Philadelphia Union seemed destined to see the young American wonderkid depart earlier than anticipated.

Initial reporting by Tom Bogert stated that the Union made a massive offer to Sullivan which would have been the “best homegrown offer ever extended” in Major League Soccer. However, that offer initially fell short of expectations, and Sullivan seemed set to make the switch imminently, with a loan to City Football Group subsidiary club SK Lommel in Belgium until eligible to play in England.

Then, Sullivan whipped an about-face, and the latest reports indicate that he will stay and develop with the MLS club for the foreseeable future, likely until his 18th birthday when he can then move to Man City.

According to updated reporting by Bogert in late March 2024, Sullivan has agreed to a deal with both the Union and Manchester City to continue developing with the MLS club, thanks in part to the richest homegrown contract in league history. Once it is signed, Sullivan would be eligible to play for the Union first-team, having only just made his first appearance for the club’s reserve side days prior, registering a debut assist off the bench.

Bogert’s report claims that per the agreement, Sullivan will transfer to Man City once he turns 18. The clubs reportedly agreed to a transfer package that includes a heavy list of add-ons plus a sell-on percentage of unconfirmed size retained by the Union.

The murkiest part of the reported deal is a vague clause buried in Bogert’s reporting that states, “The Union agreed with City that it would send Sullivan to a City Football Group side elsewhere in Europe if his development surpasses MLS before his 18th birthday, sources say.” The notion of Sullivan’s development “surpassing MLS” would be massively open to interpretation, and could lead to a potential showdown between clubs if a disagreement on his developmental progress arises.

While prior numbers on homegrown deals aren’t known, Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (notably, before it was revealed that Sullivan would stay with the Union) that it would exceed the deal widely believed to be the largest in homegrown history, that of the New York Red Bulls who signed then-15-year-old Julian Hall last year. MLS salary figures state Hall earned $167,685 in the first year of his deal. We will eventually find out what Sullivan’s current salary figure is once updated MLS earnings are released for 2024, but that number would not give future value of remaining years in the deal, only present value.

Will Cavan Sullivan play for USA or Germany?

Cavan Sullivan has been playing for the United States at youth level but there’s no guarantee that he’ll play for the USMNT when he eventually becomes an option for the U.S. national team.

The youngster’s German passport through his mother’s ancestry means there could come a time when he will have to choose between the U.S. or Germany.

While a report from Philipp Klesser of German publication Tz says that Sullivan “feels fully American” and that it “will be very hard for Germany to change his mind,” it also notes that the German national team has scouted Sullivan a few times, indicating that he’s on their radar.

The only other notable time an American-born player chose instead to play for a major European nation was back in 2008 when Guiseppe Rossi infamously made his debut for the Italian national team.

Rossi, however, spent his entire youth career playing for the in the Italian age-group categories, which likely pushed him in that direction. It would be unprecedented if Sullivan spent his first 14 years living in the United States while playing for the U.S. youth system, but ultimately decided to represent another major European nation at the senior level.

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