Milan Iloski's move to Danish powerhouse FC Nordsjaelland is a different kind of USL Championship transfer

In recent years, Orange County of the USL Championship has transferred six players to European teams as part of the club’s "Pro Player Pathway.” Many who have been sold to European teams have been on the younger side, often as teenagers or early 20s, with experience limited to around one professional season or less.

This week, Orange County announced the sale of Milan Iloski to FC Nordsjaelland of the Danish Superliga and the move is different from the club’s recent transfers. For one, at age 24, Iloski is no longer a young player. He has been a professional since January 2020. Perhaps most significantly, he is not a mere promising player. He is one of the best attacking players in the USL Championship over the past two years.

In the 2022 season, Iloski won the league’s Golden Boot with 22 goals in 31 games. Thus far in 2023, he has 12 goals in 27 games for a total of 34 goals in 58 games. It is an important move not just for Orange County but for the USL: a barometer for where the elite of the league can fit in with a one of the top teams in Denmark.

For Illoski, the move is about him both finding a place where he can continue to improve as he enters his prime and how he can push for titles. The club currently sits second in the Danish Superliga and it is in the group stages of the UEFA Conference League after a second-place finish last season.

Nordsjaelland has been a leader in youth development in Denmark and a previous home to U.S. internationals Michael Parkhurst, Heath Pearce and Jonathan Amon, who earned caps with the U.S. team while at Nordsjaelland. Parkhust won a Superliga title with Nordsjaelland and participated in the Champions League.

The club is also part of the Right to Dream Academy network, which began as an elite academy in Ghana and has expanded to Egypt and now owns Nordsjaelland. The owners of this group, the Mansour Group, are the majority owners of the forthcoming MLS expansion team FC San Diego. In the press release announcing Iloski, FC Nordsjaelland said it was through its new FC San Diego scouting network it uncovered Iloski.

“When I first found out, it was probably the middle to end of the summer transfer window,” Iloski told Soccer America of the interest from Nordsjaelland. “I started watching some games. And the more research I did and the more questions I asked to people around the team and around the league was that they're a great developmental club and they compete every year and they're always high up on the table. It's just the place I want to be in as a competitor. I want to win trophies. I looked at it as the place where I can go and be a part of this real football university and, in a way, where I can continue to learn and develop every day, which I have such an eagerness to do.”

“It was a no brainer for me and a place that I'm extremely excited and grateful to be able to go to,” he added.

As part of the deal, Iloski will remain with Orange County SC for the remainder of the season and join Nordsjaelland in January. The club currently sits third in the Western Conference with 47 points through 28 games, four points behind leaders Sacramento Republic.

For Iloski, the move is bittersweet as he will be saying goodbye to an Orange County team that has helped him immensely in his career. Following his three-year career at UCLA, Iloski signed a homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake in January 2020. But after only two MLS appearances, Real Salt Lake declined its option to extend Iloski’s contract and he became a free agent.

To reboot his career, Iloski signed with Orange County where his older brother, Brian Iloski, was playing. For Milan, it was simply about playing regularly and having fun on the field again. Once that happened, he was confident he could show what he could do.

“It didn't work out in Salt Lake for me," he said. "But Orange County gave me the chance to play every week and to find consistency and rhythm and a real good fitness level that I never really had. From there, I just took off and showed my quality on the field once I got that opportunity to play. I'm really happy that I made the decision to come to Orange County and I'm very happy with how it's worked out.”

What has also made Orange County a good place for him is the club’s willingness to work with young players and combine that with an experienced veteran core to balance the roster to maintain a high professional environment. During his time at Orange County, Iloski has played with former U.S. international Michael Orozco, former Mexico international Erick “Cubo” Torres, who starred in MLS and Liga MX, and former Rangers defender Rob Kiernan.

“There are loads of really experienced veteran players who can give a lot of great advice and there's a lot of young guys coming up,” Iloski said. “It's a great mix that Orange County has, and it gives the opportunity to young players who have never really played before to play with these experienced pros who have had great careers. I was kind of in a weird spot coming back from MLS and I was able to use all the resources that they provided and really jumpstart my career.”

Iloski comes from a soccer family. He was born in San Diego to a Macedonian family, where he also holds a passport. His father, Mike Iloski, was born in France after having to leave Macedonia. After he moved to the United States, he played professionally indoors for the San Diego Sockers. Both of his older brothers, Brian and Eric, have played in the USL Championship.

That background has had a huge influence on Milan and getting him to this point.

“We're Macedonian, so for us, it was always something that we loved,” Iloski explained. “As the younger brother, I saw my older brothers and my dad doing it. Our dad was our coach our whole lives really up until we really started getting to the high levels of academy soccer. He really taught us everything that we know. To this day, when I go train in the offseason, he comes out and trains us and we do the same things we did when we were little kids. And those are the things that we'll probably do forever.”

In addition to his family, UCLA also had a big influence on Iloski as a player and as a person. All three of the Iloski brothers had standout careers at UCLA and all made the jump to the professional level. The college route was once a key developmental path but now is bypassed by many American players who favor going through youth academies.

In that sense, Iloski is a bit of a throwback, but he still believes it is relevant to the modern American game.

“I'm a big believer in college soccer,” Iloski said. “It doesn't get the respect I think it maybe deserves. The idea of signing a contract at a young age might be really appealing to a lot of young players coming up. ... But it’s hard for a lot of young players to come into these MLS [academies] or whatever level that they're going. It's an environment that maybe some people aren't ready for. I think college soccer off the field, gives you a chance to grow up and become an adult and make sure you have responsibilities that are not just with soccer. Ultimately it helps you grow up a lot. And you can also hone your skills and your talent.”

For now, Iloski is aiming to win with Orange County and head to Nordsjaelland for the next phase of his career. When asked about whether this move to Nordsjaelland could open the door for him internationally, possibly with Macedonia, he is coy saying he is simply focused on taking it step by step while also adding: “I've learned at this point of my career that you don't really say no to opportunities.”

For now, that is far away. The next big opportunity is Nordsjaelland.

“It'll be a big challenge for me, but now I think I'm ready for it and just excited to get over there and meet all my teammates and coaches and really get going,” Iloski said.

3 comments about "Milan Iloski's move to Danish powerhouse FC Nordsjaelland is a different kind of USL Championship transfer".
  1. humble 1, September 18, 2023 at 11:05 a.m.

    Thank you SA and Brian Sciaretta.  Orange County quietly moving more players abroad than most MLS teams.  Class.  Respect. Milan Iloski story also shows college soccer doing better at producing pros than most MLS academies.  Don't worry.  Secret safe here.  Won't tell anyone.  Keep it going with the awsome reads! Good day!  

  2. R2 Dad, September 19, 2023 at 11:46 a.m.

    The family deserves all the credit for his development: "He really taught us everything that we know. To this day, when I go train in the offseason, he comes out and trains us and we do the same things we did when we were little kids." This isn't any different from other high-acheiving players like CP.

  3. Grant Goodwin, September 21, 2023 at 9:56 a.m.

    Great article.  I really enjoyed it.  Good luck to Milan.  Try not to freeze in Denmark.  Going there in January from California...that will be some culture shock.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications