Major League Soccer has traditionally been viewed by the European media as a retirement home for older, has-been stars who are both looking for a paycheck and the chance to live in America. Thus, the transfer market is often viewed as one-way route from Europe to America

While these stereotypes aren’t entirely false, MLS teams have proven to be shrewd negotiators in their own right. Some clubs invest in young talent, nurture it, and then sell it off for a massive profit. Read on to find out about some of the players that MLS developed. This might just help you get even more invested in all the ongoing MLS transfer news.

What is the biggest transfer in MLS history?

Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron netted Atlanta United $27 million when the team sold him to Newcastle United in 2019

Ranking the Top 10 Highest Outbound Transfers in MLS History

  1. Ismaël Kone

Position, National Team: Midfielder, Canada
Transfer Year: 2022
Age at Time of Transfer: 20
Transfer From: Montreal CF to Watford
Transfer Fee: $9.2 million (€8 million)

The 2022 Canada Soccer Young Player of the Year had a breakthrough year in 2022. Having only turned 20 that June, Ismael Kone debuted for CF Montreal and played in 26 matches for the club. He then played in all three games for Canada at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

His World Cup performance caught the eye of recently-relegated English Championship side Watford, which snapped up the young Canadian for $9.2 million. He made 16 league appearances for the EFL club in 2022-23 and will be a big part of their promotion push during the 2023-24 campaign.

  1. Daryl Dike

Position, National Team: Striker, USA
Transfer Year: 2022
Age at Time of Transfer: 21
Transfer From: Orlando City to West Bromwich Albion
Transfer Fee: $9.5 million (€8.63 million)

The ninth pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City, striker Daryl Dike forced his way into the starting lineup at age 20 after taking home the MLS Player of the Month award for August 2020. He secured a loan move to Championship side Barnsley (with an option to buy reported to be around $24 million), and his nine goals in 19 appearances nearly catapulted that club to a surprise promotion.

After Barnsley didn’t activate its option to buy, Dike returned to Orlando and scored 10 more goals in 18 appearances. West Bromwich Albion of the EFL Championship league was impressed and forked over $9.5 million for his services. Injuries have plagued Dike so far during his time at the Hawthornes, but he’ll look to reclaim his spot on the USMNT roster with a strong 2023-24 season.

  1. Jozy Altidore

Position, National Team: Striker, USA
Transfer Year: 2008
Age at Time of Transfer: 18
Transfer From: New York Red Bulls to Villarreal
Transfer Fee: $10 million (€7.4 million)

Heading into the 2008 summer transfer window, American striker Jozy Altidore was only 18 years old. Nonetheless, he had already bagged 15 goals in 37 MLS matches and had just scored his first goal for the USMNT (against Mexico, to boot).

At the time, Villarreal’s 2008 signing of Altidore for $10 million was a record for an MLS export, more than doubling the previous record set by Clint Dempsey’s move to Fulham.

Unfortunately, the young American never quite clicked with Villareal, but he eventually found success in Europe when he scored 39 goals in 67 Eredivisie games for AZ from 2011 to 2013. He also has said he prefers La Liga over the Premier League.

  1. Gabriel Slonina

Position, National Team: Goalkeeper, USA
Transfer Year: 2022
Age at Time of Transfer: 18
Transfer From: Chicago Fire to Chelsea
Transfer Fee: $10 million (€9.09 million) (plus bonuses up to $15 million)

A breakthrough 2021 MLS campaign for the Chicago Fire saw American goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina become a hot commodity on transfer gossip columns, especially after he became the youngest goalie to keep a clean sheet in MLS history at age 17. By August 2022, Premier League powerhouse Chelsea pounced, securing Slonina’s signature for a reported  $10 million, plus potential bonuses. He finished the 2022 season on loan with Chicago before joining Chelsea’s U21 side in January.

Will Slonina ever get his chance between the sticks at Stanford Bridge, or will he become yet another lost soul in Chelsea’s loan army? With the 2023-23 Chelsea goalkeeping depth chart currently led by Kepa, anything is possible.

  1. Brenden Aaronson

Position, National Team: Attacking midfielder, USA
Transfer Year: 2021
Age at Time of Transfer: 20
Transfer From: Philadelphia Union to RB Salzburg
Transfer Fee:  $14 million including bonuses (€12.7 million)

Nicknamed “Medford Messi” (you can Google it), American attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson made the jump from USL Championship club Bethlehem Steel to Philadelphia Union's first team in 2019. Only 18 years old at the time, Aaronson finished second in the 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year voting before securing a spot in the 2020 MLS Best XI, while also helping lead the Union to the Supporters’ Shield.

At the conclusion of the 2020 season, it was announced that he would join Austrian Bundesliga’s RB Salzburg to team up with American coach Jesse Marsch. His $14 million transfer fee was the largest ever for a homegrown MLS player. A successful stint in Austria saw Aaronson follow Marsch to the Premier League’s Leeds United. After an up-and-down season that ended in relegation, Aaronson joined UCL-bound German outfit Union Berlin for the 2023-24 season.

  1. Alphonso Davies

Position, National Team: Left wing/Left back, Canada
Transfer Year: 2019
Age at Time of Transfer: 17 (joined team at 18)
Transfer From: Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich
Transfer Fee:  $15.6 million (€14 million)

By far the biggest name on this list, Canadian left back Alphonso Davies has won it all with his current team, Bayern Munich. He has won Bundesliga championships, two DFB-Pokals, three DFL-Supercups, and, of course, the 2020 Champions League. On his way to the 2020 treble, Davies had breathtaking performances against the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona, leaving Barca defender Nelson Semedo in the dust before setting up teammate Joshua Kimmich for a tap-in. Davies has done very well for one of the biggest MLS transfers of all time.

With the Vancouver Whitecaps, Davies was more of a conventional winger. He debuted at just 15 years old in 2016 and was the team’s Player of the Season at age 17 in 2018. Bayern paid just over $15 million for the Canadian, who is only 22. Hopefully, his best days are still ahead of him.

According to recent speculation, those best days might be back on the wing. In terms of his overall career Davies might be the best MLS player of all time in terms of those whose pro careers began in MLS.

  1. Pity Martinez

Position, National Team: Attacking midfielder, Argentina
Transfer Year: 2020
Age at Time of Transfer: 27
Transfer From: Atlanta United to Al Nassr
Transfer Fee:  $18 million (€16 million)

Argentine midfielder Pity Martinez had large boots to fill when he arrived at Atlanta United in January 2019. Star Miguel Almiron (more on him later) was leaving and being replaced by the ex-River Plate midfielder Martinez for an $18 million transfer fee.

Martinez would play only 33 times for Atlanta, contributing seven goals and 11 assists in his MLS career. Head coach Frank De Boer called Martinez’s work ethic “a danger to the team.” Atlanta United did well to make a $2 million profit on him, however, when he moved on to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr, where he currently lines up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

  1. Ricardo Pepi

Position, National Team: Striker, USA
Transfer Year: 2022
Age at Time of Transfer: 18
Transfer From: FC Dallas to FC Augsburg
Transfer Fee: $18.6 million (€16.36 million)

A polarizing figure amongst USMNT fans, American striker Ricardo Pepi’s stock skyrocketed in 2021. At only 18 years old, he netted 13 MLS goals for FC Dallas and bagged three more in crucial qualifiers for the USMNT to help the Americans qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Augsburg of Germany’s Bundesliga was intrigued and bought the American youngster for a club record of nearly $20 million (also the MLS transfer record sale of an American MLS player to a European team).

Pepi’s 2022 season did not go as well. He played 16 times total for Augsburg but failed to find the net, and didn’t earn a seat on the USA team’s plane to Qatar for the World Cup. He rebounded with a 12-goal half-season loan spell at Groningen in the Netherlands and secured a permanent transfer to the Dutch powerhouse PSV. Things are looking up again for Pepi.

  1. Jhon Duran

Position, National Team: Striker, Colombia
Transfer Year: 2023
Age at Time of Transfer: 19
Transfer From: Chicago Fire to Aston Villa
Transfer Fee:  $18.6 million plus up to another $4 million in bonuses (€16.64 million)

Purchased for $2 million from Colombia’s Envigado by the Chicago Fire when he was only 17, Colombian striker Jhon Duran blossomed during his lone MLS season. In his final five games, the young attacker contributed five goals and two assists.

While Duran was playing in the 2023 South American Under-20 Championships, Aston Villa of the Premier League forked over $18 million plus another potential $4 million in performance bonuses to add Duran. While he failed to score in a half season with his new EPL team, the talented youngster should get ample chances during the 2023-24 season because Villa will have extra games as a result of qualifying for the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Duran is proof that MLS transfers can go straight to Premier League first teams.

  1. Miguel Almiron

Position, National Team: Attacking midfielder/winger, Paraguay
Transfer Year: 2019
Age at Time of Transfer: 24
Transfer From: Atlanta United to Newcastle United
Transfer Fee: $27 million (€24 million)

This is the gold standard for MLS transfers. MLS clubs can take a chance on an emerging international talent, build a team around that player, and sell him off for triple the profit. The result of this strategy might just be the most expensive MLS transfer of all time.

The current gold standard is Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron. Atlanta United bought him from Argentina’s Lanus for $8 million in 2017, and he proceeded to notch back-to-back MLS Best XI placements. He also led his club to the 2018 MLS Cup. Newcastle was interested in adding him and paid a handsome $27 million for the playmaker, who recently chipped in 11 goals to help the club qualify for its first Champions League berth in a generation.

Almiron’s story will encourage more talented young players to give MLS a shot. As the literal MLS most valuable player, he has done pretty well for himself in Europe.

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