The 10 most valuable MLS stars including Lionel Messi, Prem-linked ace and Barcelona academy graduate

Facundo Torres, Lionel Messi and Thiago Almada

Here are the top 10 most valuable MLS stars

Some huge names have played in Major League Soccer over the past 20 years, including David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Barcelona and Argentina legend Lionel Messi joined that illustrious group last summer, signing for Beckham’s Inter Miami franchise on a free transfer following the end of his Paris Saint-Germain contract. Messi was heavily linked with a move to Saudi Arabia, which would have seen him come up against long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Instead, Beckham managed to convince the devastating forward on a switch to the US, tying him down to a two-and-a-half-year contract worth a reported $150million. Messi’s transfer became the biggest in MLS history and eclipsed Beckham’s own move to LA Galaxy in 2007.

At the height of his powers, Messi was valued at a staggering €180m by transfermarkt. While the 36-year-old is no longer worth that money, he is still the most valuable player in MLS according to transfermarkt. TEAMtalk has decided to take a look at how far he is ahead, as well as the rest of the league’s top 10.

DON’T MISS: The five best USMNT youngsters shining in Europe and aiming for 2026 World Cup squad

1. Messi – $38m (£30m)

Messi registered 11 goals and five assists in 14 games for Inter Miami last term. The World Cup winner was instrumental to the club lifting the 2023 Leagues Cup, their first ever trophy.

Alongside his former Barcelona team-mates Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, he continues to be a menace for opposition defences. This season his record stands at four goals and one assist from four appearances.

Those goal contributions have helped Miami go top of the Eastern Conference table with a superior goal difference to the likes of CF Montreal, Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls.

2. Thiago Almada – $29m (£23m)

Thiago Almada joins Messi as the only other MLS player whose value has broken the $20m barrier. Almada was linked with a move to Europe after impressing at Argentinian side Velez Sarsfield, but it was Atlanta United who won the race for him in February 2022.

The four-time Argentina international can operate as a central attacking midfielder or as a winger on either flank. He has notched 21 goals and 23 assists in 68 appearances for Atlanta.

The trouble for Gonzalo Pineda’s side is that Almada is hoping to leave this year. In January, he said: “I want to go to Europe now. I would like to play in the Spanish Premier La Liga. There was interest from Ajax, which could not happen. Let’s see now.”

Atletico Madrid are hoping to give Almada a dream La Liga move. A Premier League switch may also be on the cards, as he has been linked with Manchester United too.

3. Facundo Torres – $15m (£12m)

Third on the list is Facundo Torres, the Orlando City attacker who was tipped to join Arsenal last year but ultimately decided to stay put.

Torres is a full Uruguay international who was in good form last season. Indeed, he managed 14 goals and three assists in 30 MLS outings, helping Orlando finish second in the Eastern Conference behind FC Cincinnati. However, Orlando were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the MLS Cup play-offs by Columbus.

While Torres is yet to find the back of the net in MLS this term, he has registered two goals and an assist in three CONCACAF Champions Cup outings.

4. Cucho Hernandez – $14m (£11m)

Cucho Hernandez is a Colombian striker who was on Watford’s books between January 2017 and July 2022 but only played 28 times for the Hornets as he headed out on several loans to Spain.

Two years ago, Watford decided to let Hernandez leave permanently, and he joined Columbus in a deal worth £9.3m.

He has since notched up a great record, with 35 Columbus goals to his name in 57 matches. He played a vital role in Columbus winning the MLS Cup last season and will be aiming to lift more silverware this campaign.

5. Sebastian Driussi – $13m (£10m)

Sebastian Driussi is an Argentine midfielder who spent time at River Plate before moving to Zenit Saint Petersburg in July 2017. In 2021, after four years in Russia, the playmaker left for Austin FC.

Driussi was left out of Austin’s squad for the first two games of the season with a leg injury. He is slowly getting back to full fitness though and was named on the bench for the recent 2-2 draw with St Louis City SC.

Driussi could have moved to England in January 2023, as Leeds United were credited with strong interest in his services.

6. Hany Mukhtar – $13m (£10m)

Hany Mukhtar is an ex-Germany U21 international who rose through the ranks at Hertha Berlin before going on to sign for European clubs such as Benfica, Red Bull Salzburg and Brondby.

He moved to the US in January 2020 when Nashville SC came calling. The attacking midfielder has since managed 68 goals and 37 assists in 135 games for Nashville, including one goal and one assist in three appearances this season.

Mukhtar will be hoping to cause Messi and co. a headache by scoring against Miami when the two sides meet in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Thursday.

7. Riqui Puig – $13m (£10m)

Riqui Puig is certainly one of the more interesting characters on this list. The central midfielder came through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and ended up appearing 57 times for the La Liga giants.

Once compared with Barca and Spain icon Andres Iniesta, Puig was expected to become an integral player for the Blaugrana over the next 10 years. But he was soon leapfrogged in the midfield pecking order by the likes of Gavi and Pedri.

In summer 2022, manager Xavi left Puig out of his pre-season squad, forcing the ex-Spain U21 international to move elsewhere. Rather than join another European club, though, he signed for LA Galaxy in a shock move.

Puig has so far managed to score 14 goals in 49 games and could go on to become an LA Galaxy hero if he stays there for several more years.

8. Joseph Paintsil – $12m (£9m)

26-year-old winger Joseph Paintsil has had something of a journeyman career, having played in Ghana, Hungary, Belgium and Turkey before joining LA Galaxy last month. So far, the wide man has put up a goal and an assist in three matches for his new side.

9. Hugo Cuypers – $12m (£9m)

Joining Chicago Fire for a club-record $12m in February, Hugo Cuypers is a 27-year-old centre-forward who previously represented Belgium at U19 level. Arguably his best form came with Gent, when he registered 51 goals in 90 matches.

10. Denis Bouanga – $11m (£8.5m)

Denis Bouanga had only ever played in France before, but he decided to take part in a new challenge when joining Los Angeles FC in August 2022. The left winger is yet to score this campaign and is tied with New York City FC attacker Talles Magno for 10th spot on this list.

No USMNT player makes the top 10, as their biggest stars usually head to Europe at an early age. The most valuable USMNT player still shining in North America is FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira ($10m/£8m).

READ MORE – The 10 highest paid players in MLS: Lionel Messi above former Man Utd and Liverpool stars