The average transfer fees are increasing. The clubs involved are in the global elite. The talent (and potential) of players is only improving.
This is the new normal for MLS in the global market, with eight-figure deals not one-offs but commonplace. Whether it's homegrown products or those from abroad developing/reinforcing their star power, players are commanding serious money as MLS's "selling league" reputation grows.
Jhon Durán (ST)
Chicago to Aston Villa (England)
Up to $22 million ($18m base + $4m add-ons)
Djordje Petrovic (GK)
New England to Chelsea (England)
Up to $19.7 million ($17.5m base + $2.2m add-ons)
Taty Castellanos (ST)
NYCFC to Lazio (Italy)
$16.7 million & sell-on %
Gaga Slonina (GK)
Chicago to Chelsea (England)
Up to $15 million ($10m base + $5m add-ons)
Cincinnati to Udinese (Italy)
$10 million + add-ons & sell-on %
Luiz Araújo (F)
Atlanta to Flamengo (Brazil)
Gabriel Pereira (F)
NYCFC to Al-Rayyan (Qatar)
Undisclosed eight figures
Ismaël Koné (M)
Montréal to Watford (England)
So this story doesn't get too unwieldy, we drew the line at reported $10+ million transfer fees. There are plenty more, in 2023 alone, that fall just under that arbitrary line:
- Paxten Aaronson – Philadelphia Union to Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany): $4 million + add-ons + sell-on %
- Julián Araujo – LA Galaxy to FC Barcelona (Spain): $4 million
- Djordje Mihailovic – CF Montréal to AZ Alkmaar (Holland): Over $6 million (including add-ons)
- Lucas Zelarayán – Columbus Crew to Al Fateh (Saudi Arabia): Undisclosed
That's a sampling from the last few months, though MLS players and eight-figure outgoing transfer fees aren't exactly new. Miguel Almirón, Alphonso Davies, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson all come to mind.
But what's particularly notable is the sheer volume of deals and frequency at which they're occurring (all players involved are age 27 or younger). With three months left in 2023, let's take stock of the $10+ million crowd thus far.
- Teams: Chicago Fire FC to Aston Villa (England)
- Reported fee: Up to $22 million ($18m base + $4m add-ons)
- Date: January 17, 2023
Chicago earned a top-three all-time MLS transfer fee when sending Durán, a rising Colombian international, to Premier League side Aston Villa. Now, he's in his first full season and fighting for starter's minutes alongside Ollie Watkins.
During his lone season with the Fire, Durán tallied eight goals and three assists over 1,363 minutes (27 appearances; 14 starts). The Fire initially acquired him from Colombian club Envigado FC in 2021, a deal that wouldn't go official until the winter of 2022 after he turned 18.
- Teams: New England Revolution to Chelsea FC (England)
- Reported fee: Up to $19.7 million ($17.5m base + $2.2m add-ons)
- Date: August 26, 2023
Petrovic left MLS 16 months after joining the Revs as their Matt Turner replacement. The Serbian international was named a 2023 MLS All-Star and finished second in 2022 MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year voting despite joining New England midseason.
Petrovic was sensational for the Revs, posting 14 shutouts in 43 regular-season games while routinely making highlight-reel saves. He also stopped five of 16 penalty kicks faced, recording some of the best statistical stretches in MLS goalkeeping history.
- Teams: NYCFC to Lazio (Italy)
- Reported fee: $16.7 million & sell-on %
- Date: July 21, 2023
Castellanos spent the 2022-23 LaLiga season on loan at Girona, memorably scoring four goals in one match against Real Madrid. That certainly caught the attention of Serie A side Lazio, who will compete in this year's UEFA Champions League.
While at NYCFC, Castellanos won both MLS Cup and the Golden Boot presented by Audi award in 2021. He departed NYCFC at second in their all-time scoring charts with 59 goals scored across all competitions, sitting behind only Spain national team all-time leading scorer David Villa.
- Teams: Chicago Fire FC to Chelsea FC (England)
- Reported fee: Up to $15 million ($10m base + $5m add-ons)
- Date: August 2, 2022
Effective for the winter, Slonina joined Chelsea after completing the 2022 campaign on loan at Chicago. The rising US international goalkeeper is now on loan at Belgian side KAS Eupen and garnered one of the largest outgoing fees for an MLS youth product.
During his two breakout seasons with Chicago, Slonina posted 16 shutouts in 43 games. Slonina, upon turning pro in March 2019 as a 14-year-old, was the second-youngest player signing in MLS history.
- Teams: Cincinnati to Udinese (Italy)
- Reported fee: $10 million + add-ons & sell-on %
- Date: April 26, 2023
Over parts of three seasons, Brenner scored 27 goals and eight assists in 72 appearances for FC Cincinnati across all competitions. The Brazilian striker joined the club as a Young Designated Player in 2021 from São Paulo FC.
Brenner was originally set to stay in MLS until July, before heading to Italy to start his career with Udinese. But he departed earlier than expected, with Aaron Boupendza arriving as his replacement.
- Teams: Atlanta United to Flamengo (Brazil)
- Reported fee: $10 million
- Date: May 18, 2023
Araújo joined the Five Stripes from Ligue 1's Lille in the summer of 2021 as one of MLS's most expensive inbound transfers (reported $10 million, plus another $2 million in incentives). But the flashy winger didn't always meet expectations, finishing with 11g/12a in 59 games before returning to his native Brazil.
Araújo's departure opened a Designated Player slot for Atlanta to use in the league's Secondary Transfer Window. They ultimately found their replacement in Georgian international winger Saba Lobjanidze, acquired from Turkish Süper Lig side Hatayspor.
- Teams: NYCFC to Al-Rayyan (Qatar)
- Reported fee: Undisclosed eight figures
- Date: July 22, 2023
In a shock move that NYCFC sporting director David Lee said they didn't seek out, NYCFC transferred Pereira to the Qatari top-flight. He ultimately spent 16 months with the club, arriving from Brazilian Serie A side Corinthians as a U22 Initiative player.
Pereira proved remarkably effective during his time in MLS, tallying 14 goals and seven assists in 48 regular-season games (~2,900 minutes). NYCFC acted quickly to replace him, acquiring Julián Fernández from Argentine top-flight side Vélez Sarsfield as a U22 Initiative player.
- Teams: Montréal to Watford FC (England)
- Reported fee: $8-10 million
- Date: December 5, 2022
We were on the fence about including Koné, both in terms of fee and when he joined his Championship side. But it's worth featuring the Canadian international midfielder, who rose from obscurity to World Cup participant with a breakout 2022 campaign for Montréal.
Last year, Koné tallied 2g/5a in 26 games as Montréal became the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. He was linked to other English second-division teams last summer, but deals with Sheffield United and Norwich City both reportedly fell through.