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Top 10 Most Expensive Outgoing Transfers in MLS History

| January 23, 2021 7:11 am PDT
Most Expensive Outgoing Transfers in MLS History

Major League Soccer may not command the astronomical transfer fees that we see in Europe. I mean, Neymar’s €222 million ($263m) world-record move from Barcelona to PSG is on another planet, let’s be honest.

However, since the league’s inauguration in 1996, MLS has consistently seen many of its top players leave on big-money deals.

Back in 2008, Jozy Altidore’s $10m switch from New York Red Bulls to Villarreal was a ground-breaking transfer, while modern-day stars like Alphonso Davies and Zack Steffen have left America for some of Europe’s top clubs.

But who are the most expensive MLS exports of all time?

Below, I discuss the ten biggest outgoing transfer fees in Major League Soccer history.

10. Carlos Gruezo ($4.5m)

  • From: FC Dallas
  • To: Augsburg

FC Dallas made a tasty profit on Carlos Gruezo when the Ecuadorian was sold to German side Augsburg in 2019.

Having made a name for himself in the Bundesliga, the Texans signed Gruezo for around $2 million in 2016. 98 MLS appearances later, he returned to Germany, with Dallas receiving $4.5 million for the defensive midfielder.

Gruezo helped Dallas to win the US Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield in 2016, catching the eye with his combative approach. He also contributed five goals and seven assists during his three-year stay in MLS, despite generally operating in a deep-lying midfield role.

Brek Shea, Fabian Castillo, and Reggie Cannon have all left Toyota Stadium for sizeable fees over the years, but Gruezo is Dallas’ most expensive outgoing transfer of all time.

9. Matt Miazga ($5m)

  • From: New York Red Bulls
  • To: Chelsea

Matt Miazga must have been absolutely elated when Chelsea came calling in 2015. After all, the youngster only had one full season of MLS experience under his belt at the time.

The English giant paid the Red Bulls $5 million to acquire Miazga’s services, but the center-back only made two first-team appearances for Chelsea before being sent out on a series of loan spells.

Following stints with Dutch side Vitesse, French club Nantes, and English Championship outfit Reading, Miazga is currently plying his trade in Belgian for Anderlecht. Needless to say, his big-money move didn’t quite work out the way that he would’ve hoped.

Incidentally, Miazga isn’t the only former Red Bulls star on this list. Keep reading to find out which player made the New York franchise a hefty sum all the way back in 2008.

Matt Miazga

8. Jack Harrison ($6m)

  • From: New York City
  • To: Manchester City

There is no denying that Jack Harrison is one of the most talented MLS exports of all time.

Not only was the speedy winger selected as the number one overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, but he was also rated as the second-best player in Major League Soccer under the age of 24 the very same year.

After racking up 14 goals and 10 assists in 61 appearances for New York City, Harrison was snapped up by EPL powerhouse Manchester City in 2017.

With New York City and Man City, both owned by the City Football Group, Harrison’s transfer was always likely. However, the England native still hasn’t played a single game for Pep Guardiola’s side.

Harrison has continued to enhance his glowing reputation at Leeds United, with three consecutive season-long loans giving him the opportunity to accrue plenty of first-team game time.

Player Joined Transfer Fee
Jack Harrison Manchester City $6m
Joe Scally Bourussia Monchengladbach $1.5m
Alexander Ring Austin FC $1m
Kwadwo Poku Miami FC $0.5m

7. Mark McKenzie ($6m)

  • From: Philadelphia Union
  • To: Genk

Mark McKenzie is widely regarded as one of the USA’s brightest young stars, so it wasn’t a surprise when Belgian club Genk paid Philadelphia Union $6 million to prize the 21-year-old away from America.

Despite his age, McKenzie managed to notch up 59 appearances for the U. His role in Philly’s 2020 Supporters’ Shield triumph even saw him named in the MLS Best XI, making clubs around the world stand up and take notice.

Ultimately, the lure of European soccer was too much for McKenzie to resist.

Genk has featured regularly in both the Europa League and Champions League in recent times. Granted, $6 million is not a big transfer fee for a European regular. But the Union will feel that they got a good deal, that’s for sure.

6. Brendan Aaronson ($6m)

  • From: Philadelphia Union
  • To: Red Bull Salzburg

Just a few days before McKenzie joined Genk, Philadelphia lost another prodigy to a European club. Brendan Aaronson was signed by Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg at the end of the 2020 MLS season, following a phenomenal breakthrough year.

After finishing second in the MLS Rookie of the Year rankings in 2019, the attacking midfielder took Major League Soccer by storm in 2020.

Ending the campaign with four goals and four assists to his name, Aaronson joined McKenzie in the Best XI. He left the States having played 57 times for Philly, fresh from firing the club to the Supporters’ Shield.

Salzburg has gained a reputation for developing many of the world’s best players in recent years. Household names like Sadio Mane and Erling Haaland learned their trade-in Austria, so Aaronson is certainly in good hands.

5. Zack Steffen ($8.5m)

  • From: Columbus Crew
  • To: Manchester City

Interestingly, Zack Steffen is the only goalkeeper on this list.

The Crew signed Steffen on a free transfer from German side SC Freiburg in 2016. Three years later, the Columbus franchise sold the shot-stopper to Man City for $8.5 million.

That’s pretty good business, right?

Steffen achieved a total of 26 shutouts in 84 matches for the Crew, winning the Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2018. He wasn’t able to win any silverware during his time in MLS, although he did more than enough to earn himself a big-money move.

Of course, dislodging Ederson and breaking into Man City’s starting XI won’t be easy. But when selected between the sticks for Guardiola’s side, Steffen has made the most of his opportunities.

Season Appearances Goals Conceded Shutouts
2019 13 17 4
2018 32 42 11
2017 39 53 11

4. Jozy Altidore ($10m)

  • From: New York Red Bulls
  • To: Villarreal

$10 million is by no means a big transfer fee in modern-day soccer. But back in 2008, Jozy Altidore’s unprecedented move from the Red Bulls to Villarreal sent shock waves throughout MLS.

Altidore was just 18 when he joined Villarreal. However, he only ended up making 22 appearances for the Spanish side, scoring just three goals.

Following unsuccessful loan spells across Europe with Xerez, Hull City, and Bursaspor, Villarreal sold Altidore to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar for just $2 million, making an $8 million loss on the striker.

Since returning to Major League Soccer in 2015, Altidore has rediscovered his best form. The USMNT forward led Toronto FC to the MLS Cup in 2017, although he will always be remembered for his record-breaking transfer over a decade ago.

Jozy Altidore

3. Alphonso Davies ($13.5m)

  • From: Vancouver Whitecaps
  • To: Bayern Munich

It is difficult to think of a North American that has made a quicker impact on the European game than Alphonso Davies.

The Canadian became the first player born in the 2000s to play in MLS, making his debut for the Whitecaps in 2016. But after shining for Vancouver for a couple of years, it was clear that he was destined for bigger things.

EPL sides Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea all reportedly scouted Davies as a teenager. However, Bayern Munich managed to snap him up in 2018, paying the Caps $13.5 million.

The pacey wide-man – who is comfortable at left-back or further up the field – has already won two Bundesliga titles and two German Cups with Bayern, as well as clinching the Champions League in 2020.

Anyone who watched Davies develop in Major League Soccer won’t be shocked to see him doing so well in Europe. In fact, it could be argued that Bayern signed the 20-year-old for a bargain fee, especially when you consider what he has already achieved during his fledgling career.

Competition Appearances Goals Assists
Bundesliga 29 3 4
Champions League 8 4
DFB-Pokal 5 1

2. Pity Martinez ($18m)

  • From: Atlanta United
  • To: Al-Nassr

Atlanta United paid River Plate $16 to acquire Pity Martinez in 2018. Less than two years later, the Argentine became the second-most expensive export in MLS history.

The Georgia franchise only made s $2 million profit on Martinez, selling the midfielder to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr. But after guiding the Five Stripes to US Open Cup and Campeones Cup triumphs in 2019, it’s fair to say that he made his mark in America.

Overall, Martinez contributed 11 goals and 14 assists in 54 games for Atlanta. Alongside fellow 2019 MLS All-Star Josef Martinez, Pity was part of one of the most successful teams in the club’s short history.

At 27, Martinez’s best years are arguably still ahead of him. With three Argentina caps under his belt, he will surely be hoping for another big-money move in the future.

Pity Martinez

1. Miguel Almiron ($27m)

  • From: Atlanta United
  • To: Newcastle United

Not only is Miguel Almiron the most expensive MLS export in history, but he also sits third on Newcastle United’s all-time incoming transfer list, behind legendary striker Michael Owen and current Magpies forward Joelinton.

Almiron joined Atlanta United from Argentine club Lanus for around $9 million in 2016. After leading the Five Stripes to the MLS Cup in 2018, he was signed by Newcastle for a whopping $27 million.

The Paraguayan’s maiden MLS season was impressive, with nine goals and eight assists coming in 2017. But in 2018, he took his game to another level, bagging 13 goals and 13 assists.

Naturally, numbers like that don’t go unrecognized. I’m sure that Atlanta would have wanted to keep hold of Almiron. Still, when Newcastle came in with their offer, the Georgia club simply couldn’t turn it down.

Almiron has struggled to adapt to the demands of the EPL. But as the record MLS outgoing transfer, he has a unique accolade that nobody can argue with.

Who Could Break the MLS Outgoing Transfer Record?

With Major League Soccer continuing to churn out countless young stars, it will surely only be a matter of time before the MLS outgoing transfer record is broken once again.

Diego Rossi (LAFC) is currently the highest-valued player in the league, and at just 22, the goal-scoring Uruguayan is bound to be on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Youngsters like Brian Rodriguez (LAFC), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), and Matias Pellegrini (Inter Miami) are also likely to attract big transfer fees if they choose to leave MLS.

Carlos Vela (LAFC) and Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) are also among the highest-valued players in the league, although their age means they aren’t likely to leave for more than Almiron’s $27 million fee.

On the flip side, let’s not forget that Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s best players to America over the years. If you enjoyed this post, why not check out the top 11 overseas players in MLS history?

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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