MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Top 10 most expensive outbound transfers in MLS history


Last winter, I thought it'd be useful to compile a definitive list of the most expensive outbound MLS transfers of all time, leaning on sources and reputable reports. Just a year later, there are already a few new entrants to the list. So it's time for an update.

The future is bright and the future is here.

Quick housekeeping. Here are recent transfers that didn't quite make the list:

  • Ismaël Koné: CF Montréal to Watford for around $8 million
  • Djordje Mihailovic: CF Montréal to AZ Alkmaar for around $6 million
  • Paxten Aaronson: Philadelphia Union to Eintracht Frankfurt for $4 million up front plus add-ons to around $8 million

And here are previous members of the top 10 that have been bumped out over the last year:

  • Tajon Buchanan: New England Revolution to Club Brugge for $7 million + 10% sell-on (2022)
  • Zack Steffen: Columbus Crew to Manchester City for $7.5 million (2019)
  • Bryan Reynolds: FC Dallas to AS Roma for $8.5 million + add-ons + sell-on % (2021)

Lastly... I'm working under the expectation FC Cincinnati star forward Brenner departs this month in a transfer that will make the top 10 as well. Another update may be coming your way soon.

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: Orlando City SC to West Bromwich Albion
Year: Winter 2022
Transfer fee: $9.5 million + 20% sell-on clause

After six months of will-he-won't-he? questions, Daryl Dike officially returned to England after a hugely successful loan with Barnsley ended during the 2021 season. Dike returned to the Championship on a permanent deal with promotion-chasing West Bromwich Albion.

Dike, now 22, had 19 goals and seven assists across all competitions with Orlando City SC. He tore it up with Barnsley, scoring nine goals in 1,289 Championship minutes. He's hoping to possibly lift The Baggies to the Premier League.

Since joining West Brom, the powerful forward has dealt with a few injuries. But he has three goals and one assist in 354 minutes after returning from injury at the end of December.

From: LAFC to Fenerbahce
Year: Summer 2022
Transfer fee: Around $10 million (loan fee included)

A young star who scored the first goal in LAFC history, Diego Rossi moved onto Europe on deadline day in the summer transfer window in 2021 to join Turkish giants Fenerbahce on loan. That deal was made permanent in the summer of 2022.

Sources told, between the loan and transfer fee, the deal was worth around $10 million for the Uruguay international.

Since joining Fenerbahce, Rossi has nine goals and 19 assists in 67 appearances across all competitions. He has 3g/5a in 650 league minutes so far in 2022-23.

Rossi, now 24, had 48g/21a in 104 MLS appearances, including winning the 2020 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi. He has four caps for Uruguay.

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 four years ago.

Jozy Altidore didn't quite work out in Spain, making just 22 appearances for Villarreal, but he 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.

Now at the New England Revolution, Altidore's future in MLS is unclear. He spent much of last season on loan with Puebla in Liga MX.

From: Chicago Fire FC to Chelsea
Year: Winter 2023
Transfer fee: Up to $15 million

Chicago Fire homegrown Gaga Slonina won the starting goalkeeper job at 17 years old in 2021 and never looked back. Over the 2022 season, he was being courted by huge clubs in Europe as well as the Polish FA about committing to their country internationally. He opted to stick with the USMNT and soon after a deal with Chelsea was agreed upon (worth up to $15 million), making him the most expensive goalkeeper in MLS history.

Not a bad year. Slonina started 43 MLS matches long before his 19th birthday (May 2023).

With Slonina's deal including add-ons (the up-front fee is believed to be around $10 million), we're going to leave him behind No. 6 because the fee there is all guaranteed and paid.

From: Philadelphia Union to RB Salzburg
Year: Winter 2020
Transfer fee: $14 million (following sell-on clause triggered in summer transfer to Leeds United)

Brenden Aaronson broke into the Philadelphia Union's 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 was a crucial starter for the club, triggering all incentives to take the fee up to $9 million.

Then, this summer, Aaronson joined Leeds United in a transfer worth $30 million. A portion of that ($5 million) went to the Union as part of their sell-on clause, taking the total package of Aaronson's original transfer out of MLS to $14 million.

Aaronson has been a constant starter for Jesse Marsch in the Premier League this season.

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 13g/10a in 54 appearances in Saudi Arabia. He is a new teammate of Cristiano Ronaldo now, too.

From: FC Dallas to Augsburg
Year: Winter 2022
Transfer fee: $20 million

The transfer saga of last winter helped FC Dallas get a new club-record transfer.

Ricardo Pepi was valued by a ton of clubs in Europe, though Dallas hoped to keep him another year ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But offers became bigger as the transfer window approached and a final four of Augsburg, Wolfsburg, Wolves and another Premier League club emerged.

The 2021 MLS Young Player of the Year hasn't worked out at Augsburg, eventually leaving on loan this summer to join FC Groningen in the Netherlands, where the US international has six goals and two assists this season. Another transfer is expected in the summer.

From: Chicago Fire FC to Aston Villa
Year: Winter 2023
Transfer fee: Up to $22 million ($18 million up-front, $4 million in add-ons)

A quick asterisk to point out: Jhon Durán's transfer to Aston Villa is still subject to agreeing on personal terms, as well as a medical and work visa. But an agreement on a transfer has been reached and announced by the Premier League side.

Durán, who just turned 19 in December, tallied eight goals and three assists over 1,363 minutes (27 appearances; 14 starts) during his lone MLS season for the Fire. The center forward already has three appearances for the senior Colombian national team and is currently with their U-20 side at the South American U-20 Championship this month.

The Fire initially acquired Durán from Colombian club Envigado FC for up to $2.5 million in 2021.

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 Alphonso 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 UEFA 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 the 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 title, Miguel Almiron is in his fourth 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.

This year Almiron is having his best-ever season with Newcastle, now with nine goals in 19 appearances as Newcastle push for the top four. He's made 146 appearances across all competitions for Newcastle.