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Biggest MLS Transfer Fees

Thiago Almada Signing

From its modest beginnings and early uncertainties, Major League Soccer has grown into an exciting and formidable competition that captures the hearts of soccer fans across North America and beyond. With increasing revenues, new expansion teams, and a growing fan base, MLS’s ambition to be among the world’s top soccer leagues is progressively materializing.

A crucial aspect of this growth is the ever-evolving transfer market, where clubs vie for high-profile players to enhance their squads and make an impact on the field. In this article, we’ve delved into the captivating world of MLS transfers, highlighting the most significant and record-breaking transfer fees in the league’s history.

Top 5 Most Expensive Incoming Transfers in MLS History

1. Thiago Almada

Midfielder/Forward: Atlanta United FC

From: Vélez Sarsfield to Atlanta United FC

Year: Summer 2022

Transfer fee: $16.0 million

When Atlanta United FC splashed a record-breaking $16 million to bring Argentine wonderkid Thiago Almada to the league, it marked a significant milestone in the history of MLS transfers. Almada, a highly sought-after prospect, had already caught the attention of top European clubs with his performances for Vélez Sarsfield in the Argentine Primera División.

Blessed with pace, creativity, and an eye for goal, Almada was seen as the perfect addition to an Atlanta United side looking to regain their status as one of the league’s top teams. The young attacking midfielder/forward had already made a name for himself in his home country, drawing comparisons to Argentine legend Lionel Messi due to his dribbling skills and ability to create scoring opportunities out of thin air.

The Five Stripes, known for their ambitious approach in the transfer market, saw the potential in Almada and were willing to invest heavily to secure his services. The hefty transfer fee not only smashed the previous record for the highest transfer fee paid by an MLS club but also demonstrated the league’s growing appeal to young South American talents.

Since his arrival in Atlanta, Almada has not disappointed, showcasing his immense talent and making a significant impact on the field. His ability to unlock defenses and contribute with crucial goals and assists quickly endeared him to the Atlanta United faithful, further justifying the club’s decision to invest so heavily in his talents.

Thiago Almada’s signing is a testament to MLS’s ability to attract some of the brightest prospects in world soccer. With clubs like Atlanta United willing to invest in the development of young talents, the league’s future looks brighter than ever. Almada’s success in MLS serves as a shining example of how the league can provide a platform for burgeoning stars to thrive and develop, while also raising the overall quality of play for fans to enjoy.

Almada’s transfer will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most significant and impactful deals in MLS.

2. Pity Martínez

Pity Martinez Transfer

Midfielder: Atlanta United FC

From: River Plate to Atlanta United FC

Year: Winter 2019

Transfer fee: $15.5 million

Atlanta United FC has been no stranger to making big moves in the transfer market, and their acquisition of Argentine playmaker Pity Martínez in 2019 was no exception. After parting ways with a hefty $15.5 million, the Five Stripes secured the services of the highly-rated midfielder from Argentine giants River Plate.

Martínez had already made waves in South American soccer, having been named the 2018 South American Footballer of the Year after leading River Plate to a historic Copa Libertadores triumph. Known for his vision, creativity, and ability to score from distance, Pity Martínez was seen as the ideal successor to Atlanta’s previous star playmaker, Miguel Almirón.

Arriving in Atlanta with high expectations, Martínez initially struggled to adapt to the rigors of MLS, with fans and pundits alike questioning whether the club had overspent on the Argentine. However, as the season progressed, the talented midfielder began to find his footing, showcasing the skill and creativity that had earned him a move to the league in the first place.

Despite flashes of brilliance during his time with Atlanta United, Martínez’s tenure in MLS would ultimately be relatively short-lived. In the summer of 2020, he secured a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr for a reported fee of $18.0 million – marking another record-breaking transfer, this time for the highest fee received by an MLS club.

While Pity Martínez’s time in MLS may have been brief, his impact on the league was undeniable. The Argentine’s signing further cemented Atlanta United’s reputation for attracting top talent and demonstrated the growing global appeal of Major League Soccer. Moreover, Martínez’s successful move to Saudi Arabia after his MLS stint showcased the league’s ability to serve as a stepping stone for players seeking new challenges in their careers.

3. Ezequiel Barco

Ezequiel Barco Transfer

Midfielder: Atlanta United FC

From: Independiente to Atlanta United FC

Year: Winter 2018

Transfer fee: $15.0 million

Atlanta United FC once again showcased their ambition in the transfer market when they signed Argentine midfielder Ezequiel Barco for a then-record fee of $15.0 million in 2018. The young talent had made a name for himself at Independiente, and his arrival in MLS was met with much fanfare and excitement.

Barco, known for his dribbling skills, creativity, and versatility, was expected to play a crucial role in Atlanta United’s attack, joining forces with the likes of Josef Martínez and Miguel Almirón. The expectations were high for the Argentine starlet, who was regarded as one of the most promising talents in South American soccer at the time of his signing.

In his debut MLS season, Barco showed glimpses of his potential, contributing to Atlanta United’s title-winning campaign. However, it was not until the departure of Almirón to Newcastle United that Barco truly began to shine, taking on a more prominent role in the team’s attacking setup and displaying the full extent of his abilities.

Since then, Barco continued to grow and develop as a player, becoming an integral part of Atlanta United’s success for a while. However, injuries on international duty and unreliable form led to him being loaned to River Plate in 2023, with the move becoming permanent in 2024.

Nevertheless, Ezequiel Barco’s transfer to Atlanta United showcased the league’s growing ability to attract young, high-caliber talent from across the globe. Despite having left, his transfer and the 4 seasons he spent in the league serve as a testament to the league’s progress and ambition.

4. Brenner

Brenner Transfer

Forward: FC Cincinnati

From: São Paulo to FC Cincinnati

Year: Winter 2021

Transfer fee: $13.0 million

In their pursuit of success and growth, FC Cincinnati made a significant statement in the transfer market by signing Brazilian forward Brenner from São Paulo in early 2021. The $13.0 million transfer fee made Brenner one of the most expensive acquisitions in MLS history, reflecting the club’s ambition to bring top talent to the league.

Brenner, a highly-rated young forward, had already made a name for himself in Brazil, displaying his goal-scoring prowess and versatility in São Paulo’s attack. His arrival in MLS was seen as a major coup for both FC Cincinnati and the league as a whole, with fans eagerly anticipating the impact he would have on the field.

In his debut season, Brenner quickly showcased his skills, and although the goals were slow to come, he did find the back of the net and also created chances for his teammates. His adaptation to the physicality and competitiveness of MLS was impressive, and he quickly became an essential part of FC Cincinnati’s attack.

Despite the challenges faced by the team, Brenner’s performances in MLS were been a bright spot for FC Cincinnati, especially in the 2022 season. His presence added a new dimension to their attack, and the Brazilian’s goal-scoring exploits provided fans with moments of excitement and hope for the future.

He quickly became unhappy in America though, requesting a transfer before the 2022 season, and again before the 2023 season. His request was granted on the second asking, and after a handful of games he moved to Italian side Udinese for the 2023/24 season.

5. Rodolfo Pizarro

Rodolfo Pizarro Transfer

Midfielder: Inter Miami

From: Monterrey to Inter Miami

Year: Winter 2020

Transfer fee: $12.0 million

Inter Miami made waves in the soccer world ahead of their inaugural MLS season in 2020, with one of their most notable acquisitions being the signing of Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro for a substantial $12.0 million transfer fee. The talented midfielder arrived from Liga MX side Monterrey, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a winning pedigree.

Pizarro, known for his versatility, creativity, and technical skills, has been a standout performer in both domestic and international competition. With stints at Pachuca, Chivas Guadalajara, and Monterrey, Pizarro has won multiple league titles and was part of the Mexican national team that triumphed in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Upon joining Inter Miami, Pizarro was expected to play a pivotal role in the team’s success as they embarked on their MLS journey. The Mexican international struggled however, with inconsistent performances and accusations of being a little ‘sleepy’. On top of the challenges that come with being part of an expansion team, Pizarro’s stay in the MLS was not a happy one.

He and the club mutually agreed to part ways in 2023, but in reality, Miami needed him out in order to sign global superstar Lionel Messi.

Nevertheless, Rodolfo Pizarro’s transfer to Inter Miami signified a major milestone for the club and the league as a whole. His arrival in MLS demonstrated the league’s growing appeal to established international talent and highlighted the ambition of new franchises like Inter Miami to make their mark on the global soccer stage.

Top 5 Most Expensive Outgoing Transfers in MLS History

1. Miguel Almirón

Miguel Almiron Transfer
From MLS

Midfielder: Atlanta United FC

From: Atlanta United FC to Newcastle United

Year: Winter 2019

Transfer fee: $27.0 million

Atlanta United FC made MLS history in the winter of 2019 when they completed the transfer of Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almirón to English Premier League side Newcastle United for a record-breaking fee of $26.0 million. This transaction marked the most expensive outgoing transfer in the league’s history, underlining the growing global reputation of MLS as a breeding ground for top talent.

Almirón arrived at Atlanta United in 2016 from Argentine club Lanús and quickly became a fan favorite, dazzling spectators with his pace, technical skills, and goal-scoring abilities. He played an instrumental role in the club’s 2018 MLS Cup-winning campaign, earning a place in the MLS Best XI and attracting the attention of clubs in Europe.

Newcastle United, impressed by Almirón’s performances in MLS, secured his services in a deal that turned heads across the soccer world. The transfer not only highlighted Atlanta United’s ability to identify and develop talent but also demonstrated the growing prestige of MLS as a league capable of producing players ready to compete at the highest level.

Almirón’s time in the English Premier League saw him become an important figure for Newcastle United, showcasing his skills and work ethic in a highly competitive environment. His success in England has helped to raise the profile of MLS too, providing further evidence that the league can produce players capable of making an impact in Europe’s top leagues.

The story of Miguel Almirón’s journey from MLS to the English Premier League serves as a testament to the progress and potential of Major League Soccer. His transfer will forever be remembered as a groundbreaking moment for the league, demonstrating that the opportunities and challenges offered by MLS can propel talented players to the highest levels of the soccer world.

2. Jhon Durán

Jhon Duran Transfer
From Aston Villa FC

Forward: Chicago Fire

To: Aston Villa

Year: Winter 2023

Transfer fee: $22.6 million

Jhon Durán’s transfer from Chicago Fire to Aston Villa for $18 million underscored the rising prominence of MLS as a breeding ground for young talent destined for European leagues. This move was significant not just for the transfer fee but for what it represented in the broader context of player development in MLS.

Durán joined Chicago Fire from Envigado FC in Colombia in early 2022. Despite being one of the youngest players in the league, he quickly made an impact with his dynamic style of play. Durán’s speed, physicality, and technical skills enabled him to adapt rapidly to the demands of MLS, making him one of the standout young players in the league.

Aston Villa’s acquisition of Durán for $18 million was a strategic investment and a bit of a project for them, highlighting their intent to bolster their attacking options with youthful exuberance and potential. This transfer was a record sale for Chicago Fire, demonstrating their effective scouting and development processes. Durán’s performances in MLS had shown he was ready to take the next step in his career.

In moving to Aston Villa, Durán was presented with the opportunity to test himself in one of the world’s most competitive leagues. The Premier League’s high-intensity environment is a significant step up, offering Durán the chance to further develop his skills and adapt to a different style of play.

He became a first team regular too, demonstrating MLS’s evolution into a league that not only attracts but also exports promising talent. His journey from Chicago Fire to Aston Villa highlights the league’s capability to prepare young players for the challenges of European football.

3. Ricardo Pepi

Ricardo Pepi Transfer

Forward: FC Dallas

From: FC Dallas to Augsburg

Year: Winter 2022

Transfer fee: $20 million

In the winter of 2022, FC Dallas made waves in the MLS landscape when they completed the sale of young American forward Ricardo Pepi to German Bundesliga side Augsburg for an impressive $20.0 million. This transfer represented the second-highest outgoing transfer fee in MLS history at the time, and signaled the league’s ability to nurture and develop talented players capable of making an impact in Europe’s top leagues.

Pepi rose to prominence as a homegrown player at FC Dallas, where he displayed a natural goal-scoring instinct and ability to find the back of the net in crucial moments. His impressive performances for the Texan club earned him a call-up to the United States men’s national team, where he continued to shine, scoring key goals in World Cup qualifying matches.

Augsburg, recognizing Pepi’s potential, moved quickly to secure the services of the promising American striker. The transfer marked a significant milestone for both the player and MLS, as Pepi became one of the highest-profile players to make the jump from the league to European soccer.

However, after arriving in Germany, Ricardo Pepi had a couple of dismal seasons, failing to score a single goal. People said he moved up too soon – after all, he was just 18 years old when he left Dallas – and he was sold to PSV in the Netherlands in the end.

Ricardo Pepi’s journey from FC Dallas to Augsburg isn’t exactly a success story for him, but it’s a shining example of the opportunities offered by MLS for young players seeking to make their mark on the global soccer stage.

4. Pity Martínez

Pity Martinez Atlanta Transfer

Midfielder: Atlanta United FC

From: Atlanta United FC to Al-Nassr

Year: Summer 2020

Transfer fee: $18.0 million

In the summer of 2020, Atlanta United FC once again found themselves at the center of a high-profile outgoing transfer when Argentine midfielder Pity Martínez made a move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr for a fee of $18.0 million. This transaction marked the third-highest outgoing transfer in MLS history at the time.

Pity Martínez had only joined Atlanta United in 2019 from Argentine powerhouse River Plate, arriving with a reputation as an exciting playmaker with exceptional dribbling skills and vision. During his time in MLS, Martínez demonstrated his quality on the field at times, but didn’t exactly live up to expectations.

Al-Nassr, eager to bolster their squad at a time when the Saudi Pro League was aggressively attempting to gain prominance, moved to secure the services of Martínez in a deal worth $18 million.

Since his move to Al-Nassr, Pity Martínez completed two full seasons with the club, successfully showcasing his abilities on the pitch. In 2023, he moved back to River Plate, the team from which he had joined Atlanta.

5. Djordje Petrović

Djordje Petrovic Transfer
From Chelsea FC

Goalkeeper: New England Revolution

To: Chelsea

Year: Summer 2023

Transfer fee: $17.5 million

Djordje Petrović’s move from New England Revolution to 5 time Premier League winners, Chelsea, for $17.5 million underscored Major League Soccer’s increasing role as a developer of top-tier talent ready for Europe’s elite leagues. This transfer not only highlighted Petrović’s prowess but also MLS’s capability to produce players of significant value.

Petrović joined New England Revolution from Serbian club FK Čukarički in 2022. In his time with the Revolution, he quickly became known for his exceptional shot-stopping abilities and commanding presence in goal. His performances were consistently top-notch, contributing significantly to the team’s defensive strength. Petrović’s reflexes and decision-making were standout attributes that drew attention from major European clubs.

Chelsea’s acquisition of Petrović and the $17.5 million transfer fee reflected Petrović’s potential and Chelsea’s belief in his abilities to perform in the Premier League. For New England Revolution, this was a landmark transfer, showcasing their success in identifying and nurturing talent capable of succeeding at the highest levels of the sport.

Since joining Chelsea, Petrović became their first choice goal keeper in his first season. The Premier League’s demanding nature provided him with the perfect stage to further develop his skills and prove his worth.

Djordje Petrović’s transfer is significant for MLS, emphasizing the league’s ability to develop players who can transition to top European clubs. The fact that he joined a big club as a first choice option in goal is quite something.

Transfer Fees Reflecting MLS Ambition and Financial Muscle

Transfer fees reflect not only individual players’ talent and potential but also the growing financial muscle and ambition of MLS clubs. With each passing year, the league becomes more competitive, and the investments made in player acquisitions signal a strong commitment to achieving success both domestically and on the international stage.

The high-profile transfers discussed in this article have had a profound impact on Major League Soccer, illustrating the league’s growth and the increasing recognition of its ability to nurture and develop top-class talent. As more and more players from MLS make high-profile moves to European clubs, the league continues to gain credibility on the global soccer stage, showcasing its potential to identify, develop, and launch the careers of talented players.

Looking ahead, the future of MLS transfers is undoubtedly bright. With the league’s steady growth, continuous improvement in infrastructure, and a commitment to youth development, it’s likely that we’ll see even bigger transfer fees in the coming years. As the quality of play in MLS continues to rise, it’s reasonable to expect that more players will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Miguel Almirón, Daryl Dike, and Thiago Almada, making high-profile moves to Europe and further cementing the league’s reputation as a hotbed of talent.