The winter transfer window in Europe and South America is mere days old, and yet Major League Soccer has three new entrants into the league's top 10 outbound transfers. The future is bright and the future is here.
With Ricardo Pepi's move from FC Dallas to Augsburg the headliner, let's not forget Daryl Dike's transfer to West Brom from Orlando City and Tajon Buchanan's previously-agreed transfer to Club Brugge from the New England Revolution. There is likely to be another addition to the top 10 if reigning MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Taty Castellanos departs NYCFC as expected.
For now, here's the current top 10. Performance-based incentives make this a bit difficult to track down, but some reporting (and common sense) helped alter the top 10 a bit.
From: New England Revolution to Club Brugge
Year: Winter 2022
Transfer fee: $7 million + 10% sell-on clause
With how Tajon Buchanan has performed with club and country after this deal was agreed in the summer, $7 million seems increasingly fair for Club Brugge.
Buchanan exploded from exciting young player to MLS Best XI caliber and key Canadian international star over the last 18 months. The 22-year-old is an electric wide player who can play as a winger or a wingback for Brugge – and was even more versatile for the Revolution's Supporters' Shield-winning efforts, playing through the middle at times.
He had 8g/5a for the Revs this year in 27 appearances (19 starts) while playing a crucial role for Canada in the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. Quite good for a 2019 MLS SuperDraft selection, it turns out.
From: Columbus Crew to Manchester City
Year: Summer 2019
Transfer fee: $7.5 million
After two-and-a-half years as the Columbus Crew's starting goalkeeper, US international Zack Steffen was acquired by Manchester City in a lucrative deal.
Steffen spent a year on loan in the Bundesliga with Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019-20 and has since been the backup to Ederson at City, where he's made 17 appearances over the last year and a half, most of which have arrived in cup competitions. He made his Premier League and Champions League debuts in 2020-21.
From: FC Dallas to AS Roma
Year: Winter 2021
Transfer fee: $8.5 million + incentives + sell-on clause
The MLS transfer saga of last winter was also an FC Dallas player.
Bryan Reynolds' raw talent and huge potential made him a widely-desired player, with the likes of Juventus, Club Brugge and Roma among those vying for his signature. After a prolonged negotiation process, he ended up with Serie A's Roma in a then-club record transfer following just 15 career MLS appearances.
The 20-year-old right back is set for a loan away from Roma this winter, however, in search of more playing time to continue his development.
From: Philadelphia Union to RB Salzburg
Year: Winter 2020
Transfer fee: Up to $9 million + sell-on clause
Brenden Aaronson broke into the Philadelphia Union first team, helped secure the 2020 Supporters' Shield and was named MLS Best XI. He then joined RB Salzburg in the winter for $6.5 million up front plus incentives, where he immediately hit his stride and has been a crucial starter for the club since his debut.
Aaronson is expected to remain in Salzburg until the summer, as the Austrian Bundesliga side is in the Champions League knockout stages. That would prove beneficial for Philadelphia. The Union are virtually guaranteed to see all of the performance-based incentives hit if he does indeed stay through the year, hence why he's seventh here (reflecting the $9 million total package rather than the initial fee).
Leeds United, AC Milan and RB Leipzig are among the many clubs interested in Aaronson. He won't be cheap on his next move, either.
From: Orlando City to West Brom
Year: Winter 2022
Transfer fee: $9.5 million + 20% sell-on clause
After six months of will-he-won't-he? questions, Dike officially returned to England after a hugely successful loan with Barnsley ended last spring. Dike returns to the Championship on a permanent deal with promotion-chasing West Bromwich Albion.
Dike, 21, had 19 goals in 41 MLS appearances. He tore it up with Barnsley, scoring nine goals in 1,289 Championship minutes. He returns hoping to possibly lift The Baggies to the Premier League.
From: New York Red Bulls to Villarreal
Year: Summer 2008
Transfer fee: $10 million
Here's the first big-time MLS transfer fee abroad and the only one in the top 10 that occurred further back than three years ago.
Altidore didn't quite work out in Spain, making just 22 appearances for Villarreal, but featured 70 times in the Premier League (with Hull City and Sunderland) and scored 51 goals for Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar before returning to North America with Toronto FC in 2015. He has 79 goals in all competitions with Toronto, winning MLS Cup, an MLS Supporters' Shield and three Canadian Championships.
From: Atlanta United to Al-Nassr
Year: Summer 2020
Transfer fee: $18 million
Pity Martinez arrived at Atlanta United in his prime, as the reigning South American Player of the Year and a star for River Plate. He didn't quite live up to those huge expectations in a season and a half, with 7g/11a in 39 appearances, but wasn't necessarily a failed signing given the Five Stripes recouped all of their initial league-record investment plus a little profit on top.
Martinez, 28, has 5g/8a in 33 appearances in Saudi Arabia.
From: FC Dallas to Augsburg
Year: Winter 2022
Transfer fee: $20 million
The saga of this winter, FC Dallas have a new club-record transfer.
Pepi was valued by a ton of clubs in Europe, though Dallas hoped to keep him another year with the 2022 World Cup in November. But offers became bigger as the transfer window approached and a final four of Augsburg, Wolfsburg, Wolves and another Premier League club emerged.
The huge Augsburg offer won the day, as Pepi gets to follow his dream in Europe. Pepi turns 19 next week and will be expected to make a big impact as Augsburg sit just above the relegation zone in Germany's top flight.
From: Vancouver Whitecaps FC to Bayern Munich
Year: Winter 2019
Transfer fee: Up to $22 million ($13m up front + incentives)
No confirmation on if all incentives have been hit, but Davies became Bayern Munich's first-choice left back and they've won the Bundesliga every year he's been around, twice won the German cup and even won the Champions League. It feels safe to assume that most incentives hit.
Incentives differ deal-by-deal but they are some combination of personal performance and team performance. He's already made more than 100 appearances for Bayern. He obviously is an every-game starter for Canada. He's been named to Bundesliga and UEFA teams of the season.
Legitimately the only thing he hasn't done is win Ballon d'Or.
Davies remains the poster boy for the best-case scenario with MLS exports; he's one of the world's top left backs for a world-class team. Vancouver were compensated well, particularly since the deal was agreed on in the summer of 2018.
From: Atlanta United to Newcastle United
Year: Winter 2019
Transfer fee: $26 million
Still the holder of the league-record transfer, Miguel Almiron is in his third year with Premier League side Newcastle.
Almiron was an MLS Cup champion with Atlanta, a success from his debut. The Paraguay international had 21g/28a in 62 regular-season appearances, winning MLS Cup in 2018 before sealing a move to Newcastle the next month.
With Newcastle, Almiron has accrued more than 100 appearances across all competitions.