Why more MLS players were sold abroad this winter than ever before

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Daryl Dike of West Bromwich Albion and Yoann Barbet of Queens Park Rangers during the Sky Bet Championship match between Queens Park Rangers and West Bromwich Albion at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium on January 15, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images)
By Sam Stejskal Feb 10, 2022 20
After years skirting around on the periphery, MLS, as Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey quipped last summer, is finally starting to get into the great game of the global transfer market.

And, as shown over the last couple of months, there won’t be any turning back.

MLS teams transferred more players abroad for a fee this winter than in any previous transfer window in league history, according to an analysis performed by The Athletic. 

A total of 16 players moved from MLS teams to foreign clubs for transfer fees between the end of the 2021 MLS season in December and Feb. 2, by which time the bulk of winter transfer windows in Europe had closed. The previous one-window high for the number of players transferred by MLS clubs for fees to foreign clubs was 10 — that mark was set in the winters of 2018-19 and 2019-20 and summer of 2020. According to The Athletic’s own reporting and other media outlets, those 16 players moved for at least $65 million in total base fees. 

Those numbers do not account for loan deals, but do factor in transfers like those of New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner and Colorado Rapids defender Auston Trusty. Turner and Trusty both agreed to transfers from their respective MLS clubs to Arsenal last month, but neither will officially join the English club until the summer. The league-wide total might not yet be final, either. The transfer windows in Argentina, Brazil and several other countries still remain open, meaning more players could be moved abroad for fees before the MLS season kicks off on Feb. 26.

Players transferred abroad for a fee by MLS clubs since the end of the 2021 MLS season

*Listed figures are all base fees. Potential bonuses and sell-on percentages are not included.