United States U20 international and Louisville City FC defender Josh Wynder has completed a transfer to reigning Portuguese champions Benfica, it was announced on Thursday.

Sources tell ESPN that Benfica will pay Louisville City $1.2 million plus add-ons. Louisville would also get 20 percent of any future transfer for Wynder, though Benfica can avoid that clause if it pays the USL club $500,000 before the end of 2025.

The transfer fee is a record for a USL player, eclipsing that of Hadji Barry when he moved to Egyptian Premier League side Future FC last October.

“I definitely still pinch myself sometimes because ever since I was young, I’ve been watching players in Europe and being like, ‘That’s where I want to be,'” Wynder told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “Now for it to come true, it’s crazy.”

A Louisville native, Wynder joined the club’s academy at its founding back in 2020 and signed his first professional deal in 2021, following in the footsteps of older brother Elijah. Wynder made his first team debut later that year, and has gone on to make 45 league and cup appearances, scoring two goals.

Wynder, 18, joins a Benfica side that is a regular Champions League participant, with a history of developing players like Manchester City center-back Ruben Dias and Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof.

He has been told he’ll start out with the second team with the aim of eventually getting promoted to the first team.

“Benfica is the top team in the league. I’ve watched them play a couple times and they’re a ball playing team, so they’ll build out of everything, which I think fits my style of play very well,” Wynder said. “So it just appealed to me that if I go there and I’m a starting center-back then they’ll want me to build out and play the way I like to play, and so it just fits me perfect.

“They are good at developing young players and playing young players from the early stages, so I think it’s a good fit for me for my first club in Europe.”

Wynder follows a similar path taken by former Louisville teammate Jonathan Gomez, who made 28 appearances for Real Sociedad B last season, which highlights the pipeline that has been developing from the USL Championship to Europe.

Wynder also spoke of the influence of manager Danny Cruz as being crucial to his development.

“He really focused on the little details with me from the beginning,” Wynder said. “I think I would feel like I had a good training and then he would pull me aside and tell me what he thought I could have done better, and it just changed my perspective and it’s helped me along the way.

“From there, every training, I look back at it and I think, ‘OK, I think I had a good training, but let me see what I can do better to continue to grow.'”

At international level, Wynder recently represented the U.S. at the FIFA U20 World Cup. Despite conceding an own goal in the U.S. team’s 2-0 quarterfinal defeat to Uruguay, he said he came out better for the experience.

“It was amazing,” Wynder said. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted and how I wanted, but we live and learn. The players we played against definitely brought my game to a new level and opened up my eyes a little bit because I don’t see the movement, the skill on the ball every day here.

“It definitely caught me off guard at first, and then slowly I got into it and was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to watch out for this, watch out for that.’ Every kid dreams of playing in a World Cup, whether it’s U20s, U17s or a men’s World Cup.

“So it was a great experience and I’ll never take it for granted.”

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Louisville City, U.S. defender Josh Wynder moving to Benfica