On Wednesday, Atlanta United – for the third time in their brief history – set a new league record for an MLS incoming transfer fee with their $16 million acquisition of Thiago Almada from Velez Sarsfield.

It's another new milestone for a league that has experienced plenty this offseason, with several big outbound transfers dominating headlines in January, as well as a bunch of key acquisitions. This list doesn't even include players like (and many more):

  • Clint Dempsey to Seattle for $9 million in August 2013
  • Brian Rodriguez to LAFC for around $9 million in August 2019
  • Talles Magno to NYCFC for $8 million, with add-ons for a potential $12 million package, in May 2021
  • Miguel Almiron to Atlanta for $8 million in December 2016
  • Xherdan Shaqiri to Chicago for $7.5 million in February 2022

This list also doesn't incorporate massive free-agent signings in years past, including Lorenzo Insigne (to Toronto), Gonzalo Higuain (to Inter Miami), Douglas Costa (to LA Galaxy) and many more.

Nonetheless, here are the current top 12 most expensive signings in league history in terms of transfer fees, based on MLSsoccer.com's own reporting and trustworthy reports of others.

 

12. Javier Hernández Balcázar

Forward - LA Galaxy

From: Sevilla to LA Galaxy
Year: Winter 2020
Transfer fee: $9.4 million

Mexico's all-time leading scorer always seemed linked with an MLS move over the last few years as he changed clubs after initially heading to Europe with Manchester United in 2010. It finally came to fruition ahead of the 2020 season with the LA Galaxy.

Chicharito had a big season in 2021 after a disappointing debut season in MLS. Last year he tallied 17 goals and three assists in 21 regular-season appearances, nearly leading the Galaxy to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

He has 52 goals in 109 appearances with El Tri, though hasn't been involved at all over Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying under Tata Martino.

 

11. Alan Pulido

Forward - Sporting Kansas City

From: Chivas to Sporting Kansas City
Year: Winter 2020
Transfer fee: $9.5 million

The same winter Mexican legend Chicharito came to MLS, former Liga MX Golden Boot and current El Tri international Alan Pulido arrived for an SKC-record fee of $9.5 million.

It may not rank among the absolute top fees in league history, but SKC have seldom shelled out major transfer fees prior to Pulido. It was a huge splash for one of the league's most successful clubs over the last decade.

Pulido had a strong track record at Chivas, Tigres UANL and Greek club Olympiakos before joining SKC. In MLS, Pulido has been stellar when available. Unfortunately, though, he has battled injuries seemingly his entire time with SKC and is set to miss the 2022 campaign after undergoing knee surgery. He has 14 goals and eight assists in 33 regular-season appearances.

 

T-8. Jozy Altidore

Forward - Toronto FC

From: Sunderland to Toronto FC
Year: Winter 2015
Transfer fee: Swap for Jermain Defoe (who was signed for $10 million a year earlier)

There technically wasn't a fee involved when US men's national team forward Jozy Altidore was acquired in a straight-swap for Jermain Defore. But given Toronto had just signed Defoe for $10 million a year earlier, I think that's a fair valuation to put him here. Altidore was acquired by Sunderland 18 months prior for $11 million, too.

Altidore bounced around in Europe a bit after breaking through with the New York Red Bulls and heading to Villarreal. He made moves to Hull City, Bursapor and AZ Alkmaar prior to Sunderland.

Back in MLS, Altidore was in part responsible for Toronto's best-ever period, including the treble-winning 2017 season in which they won the Supporters' Shield, Canadian Championship and MLS Cup. He has 62 goals and 20 assists in 139 regular-season appearances with TFC.

Altidore will soon reportedly join the New England Revolution as a free agent after reaching a contract buyout with Toronto.

 

T-8. Jermain Defoe

Forward - Toronto FC

From: Tottenham to Toronto FC
Year: Winter 2014
Transfer fee: $10 million

Unlike Altidore, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Pozuelo, Jermain Defoe's time in MLS wasn't particularly gainful (at least long-term) after a $10 million move from Tottenham.

Defoe made just 19 MLS appearances, scoring 11 goals, and quickly returned to England the following season. Defoe has had a hugely successful career, making 57 appearances for the English national team. He has 163 goals in 496 Premier League appearances, too.

Defoe, who is now 39, is still playing (!), currently back with Sunderland in England's League One.

 

T-8 Michael Bradley

Midfielder - Toronto FC

From: AS Roma to Toronto FC
Year: Winter 2014
Transfer fee: $10 million

Joining alongside Defoe, Michael Bradley helped usher in a new era for Toronto, two huge moves to signal their intent for the following years after struggling mightily during their first few in MLS after expansion.

Bradley had been with Serie A club AS Roma, where he made 46 appearances. He had successful stints with Chievo Verona, SC Heerenveen and Borussia Monchengladbach, as well as a brief loan to Aston Villa.

With Toronto, Bradley has been the heartbeat of the club's success and remains their captain. He has made 207 regular-season appearances with Toronto, starting the majority of their games every season since he arrived in 2014 to help change the culture and transition to an era of winning, including the 2017 treble.