Starting 11: The Almirón transfer’s effect on Atlanta United

Jason Longshore
February 01, 2019 - 9:29 am

Starting Eleven

Preseason continues around MLS and Atlanta United is now less than three weeks away from their opening match of the season, the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series against Costa Rican champions Herediano. The major stories this week are off the field though for Atlanta and for the rest of the league.

1- Miguel Almirón transferred to Newcastle United

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez chose Almirón for the top of his wish list in this transfer window, but it took a long time for the Magpies to get the deal together to satisfy Atlanta. Newcastle has struggled this season, but word of Almirón’s signing came on the same day this week that they upset defending Premier League champions Manchester City. Has Miggy’s smile already changed the fortunes of Rafa’s squad?

2- The transfer set multiple records

Obviously, the Almirón transfer is the largest in the short history of Atlanta United. It is also the largest in the long history of Newcastle United, eclipsing the amount paid for English forward Michael Owen to Real Madrid in 2005. Amounts are rarely disclosed, but multiple reports have this one coming in at around $27 million. It is the new record for a transfer of a Major League Soccer player, and fully establishes MLS as one where talent can be developed for top flight clubs and leagues around the world.

3- The Almirón transfer’s effect on Atlanta United

One immediate effect is that the concerns over roster compliance with four Designated Players is over, there will be no loan of Ezequiel Barco to satisfy MLS rules. Pity Martínez takes over Almirón’s #10 shirt in the squad. The most important effects are to the club’s reputation around the world. Atlanta United launched with an idea of being a club that participated in the world’s transfer market, something MLS has struggled with since its inception in 1996. Arthur Blank committed the resources to bring in record signings like Almirón and Barco, but the idea has always been to set records for transfers out as well. Now, when Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra recruit talented young players to Atlanta, they know that if they perform at a high enough level, major clubs around the world will take notice and open up the wallet for them. That is something American clubs have never been able to say.

4- The Almirón transfer’s effect on MLS

The league has been trending in the right direction in the last couple of years in the transfer market. For years, MLS was not really involved in the business of selling players. Jozy Altidore’s transfer from the New York Red Bulls to Villarreal in 2008 at an estimated $10 million stood as the league’s outgoing transfer record. Alphonso Davies’ recent deal that took him from Vancouver to Bayern Munich at around $13 million, with the chance it goes all the way to $22 million if incentives are reached, set the new record until this week. Leagues around the world are now looking at MLS in a different way, and the old perceptions around the league’s quality are fading away. MLS clubs are also looking in the mirror right now and wondering how they can bring in these types of revenues. Almirón’s transfer resulted in Atlanta United nearly tripling the amount of their investment when they brought him in from Argentina’s Lanús ahead of the 2017 season.

5- The new transfer world of MLS played out yesterday in Paris

DC United’s Luciano Acosta was linked for less than 24 hours with a move to France’s top club Paris Saint-Germain. When the news broke Wednesday night, it was shock to everyone who covered the league. The negotiations were so far along that Acosta and DC United general manager Dave Kasper flew to Paris to complete them. Reports vary as to what happened to prevent the deal from getting done, especially as to the amount of money that kept the two sides apart. However, this is the new world for MLS clubs. The old limits of what could happen in a transfer window are now gone. Clubs will start to think bigger, and will also have to prepare for sales that they did not consider in previous years. These are all good things for the overall growth of the league.

6- Now what for Acosta?

The byproduct of the failed transfer is what happens now for Luciano Acosta in DC. Coming that close from a move to a club in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 is heartbreaking. Reports had him “shaking with excitement” as he boarded the plane for Paris on Wednesday night. He has been negotiating with DC United for a new long-term contract after his double-digit goal and assist tallies in 2018, along with a spot in the MLS Best XI. Will he want to return to DC after this deal fell through? The only transfer windows that are currently open where he and the club might get the kind of financial deal PSG put on the table are Russia, Portugal, and leagues in the Middle East. Does he chase the money now, or does he return to the LuchoRoo partnership with Wayne Rooney that took MLS by storm?   

7- Sebastian Giovinco has left Toronto FC

Speaking of the Middle East, Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco’s time in Toronto has come to an end with his transfer to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal for an estimated $2-3 million. He had left Toronto’s training camp on Sunday night and reports varied as to why and when he would return to training. The deal sending him out was announced at 10:22 p.m. on Wednesday night, strange timing for the best player in Toronto’s history to be announced as leaving. Soon thereafter, Giovinco posted a message on his personal Instagram thanking Toronto fans, expressing his love for the city, and blasting the club for the way things were handled. He has publicly expressed his desire for a new contract and to end his career in Toronto for over a year. This is the last year of his contract and Toronto made the decision to move on. Will this have repercussions for the club going forward?

8- How does Toronto replace Giovinco?

The timing of the sale makes that a little more difficult process for Toronto. MLS’ transfer window to add players continues through early May, so that is not an issue. However, with the major leagues around Europe unable to add players now, they will be far more likely to sell players that they cannot replace. Toronto GM Ali Curtis and club president Bill Manning have both made statements that they will be signing a new Designated Player in the coming weeks to replace Giovinco. Will that be ahead of Toronto’s first match of the Concacaf Champions League campaign on February 19?

9- Minnesota United is all in on 2019

The Loons have been aggressively rebuilding their roster ahead of the upcoming season. It will be the first in their new stadium and Manny Lagos and Adrian Heath are trying to make it a memorable one. They have already strengthened the midfield with the signings of Slovakian national teamer Ján Greguš and long-time Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. Now, they have shipped what will likely be $1 million in Targeted Allocation Money to Sporting Kansas City for the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara. It’s a huge outlay of cash to bring in Opara, and a move that many have questioned around the league. What it likely means for the Loons… 2019 is playoffs or bust.

10- Atlanta United is all in on 2019

It is not a surprise, but Frank de Boer’s comments to Doug Roberson at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the importance of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to this club and the upcoming campaign make it clear that Atlanta United will be trying to add more trophies this season. Boca Juniors had expressed interest in LGP, but some reports said they were told that he is not for sale. de Boer compared Atlanta’s center back partnership to the one that he had on the Dutch national team with the legendary Jaap Stam. With Pity taking over the #10 shirt and this reminder of LGP’s importance, it feels like that the page has now been turned to what is ahead in 2019.

11- Gregg Berhalter wins his debut with the USMNT

Two goals in the final ten minutes stretched the U.S. win over Panama to a 3-0 final scoreline. Tomorrow, they will face tougher competition from Costa Rica at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium. Strong performances last weekend from Chicago’s Djordje Mihailovic, Toronto’s Michael Bradley, San Jose’s Nick Lima, and others will need to continue this weekend. This will be the final match of this camp. The USMNT will play two matches during the March international window as they prepare for this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup, which will be Berhalter’s first competitive matches in charge of the squad.