The 10 Most Expensive Transfer Fees In MLS History

A handful of clubs dominate a list that includes some of MLS's biggest stars and one bust.

For most sports in the United States, transfer fees are a foreign idea. Athletes in basketball and American football move as free agents or in trades, but rarely are they outright sold for a lump sum. While Major League Soccer maintains some of these cultural ideals, transfer fees are still commonplace. The most expensive MLS transfer fees highlight some of the league’s most ambitious clubs.

Not every big-name player to appear in MLS will be on this list. Guys like David Beckham never had transfer fees paid by MLS clubs, coming over on free transfers. The league’s all-time best player, Landon Donovan, only had one transfer fee in his entire career, a nominal $900,000 to move from Bayer Leverkusen to the LA Galaxy. Jozy Altidore’s return to MLS was essentially a swap deal for Jermain Defoe, negating the actual price at which he was valued. 

But in recent years clubs have paid more and more money to bring top talent. These are the most expensive MLS transfer fees in league history.

10
(tie) Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy, $5 million

Jonathan followed his brother Gio from Villarreal to Los Angeles in July of 2017. He appeared 12 times for the Galaxy to finish out what was a hugely disappointing season for the L.A. club. 

10
(tie) Lucas Melano, Portland Timbers, $5 million
Most Expensive MLS Transfer Fees

Lucas Melano had one of the most expensive MLS transfer fees paid for him. 

@1dayVuelta | Twitter

Portland tried to make a splash with a big-money move for Melano in July of 2015, but the former Lanus striker has yet to make an impact in MLS, having been twice loaned out back to South America. 

9
Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy, $5.7 million

The Irish striker came to America for a hefty fee in the summer of 2011, joining Landon Donovan and David Beckham. He proved to be a good signing, scoring more than 100 goals in five seasons before moving to India in August of 2017. 

8
Carlos Vela, LAFC, $5.87 million
Most Expensive MLS Transfer Fees

Carlos Vela moved to LAFC as one of the most expensive MLS transfer fees. 

@OperOfficial | Twitter

Vela became LAFC’s first big signing and first Designated Player when the Mexican star moved from Real Sociedad to Southern California in August 2017. 

7
Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders, $6 million

The 2016 MLS Newcomer of the Year made an immediate impact after joining the Sounders from Boca Juniors in July 2016, helping Seattle win its first MLS Cup. 

6
Giovani Dos Santos, LA Galaxy, $7 million

The El Tri and former Barcelona creative talent moved to a North American club for the first time in his career in July 2015, leaving Villarreal. 

5
Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United, $8.5 million

A Paraguayan star in the making, Tata Martino brought Almiron to MLS from Lanus in Argentina in January 2017. The 23-year-old responded by being named MLS Newcomer of the Year in 2017. 

4
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders, $9 million

The American star had spent most of his career in England with Fulham and Tottenham, but returned to MLS at the age of 30 in August of 2013. 

3
Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC, $9.6 million

Coming across the pond from Tottenham, Defoe had one stellar year before moving back to England. He scored 11 goals in 19 appearances for the Reds in 2014 before going to Sunderland in the Jozy Altidore swap. 

2
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC, $10 million
Most Expensive MLS Transfer Fees

Michael Bradley moved from Roma to Toronto for one of the most expensive MLS transfer fees. 

@TorontoStar | Twitter

The USMNT captain moved from AS Roma back to MLS in January 2014. The best part of the press release announcing his signing was Toronto felt it necessary to add a pronunciation guide for Bradley.

1
Ezequiel Barco, Atlanta United, $15 million
Most Expensive MLS Transfer Fees

Ezequiel Barco is at the top of the list of most expensive MLS transfer fees. 

@ATLUTD | Twitter

The 18-year-old Argentine joined the Five Stripes from Independiente in Argentina in January 2018. The fee shattered the previous record set by Bradley and set down a marker for the rest of the league. At least until Lionel Messi comes to Miami