Starting 11: Pity; it's official...

Jason Longshore
January 25, 2019 - 9:35 pm
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Welcome to the Starting 11, my new weekly column that will prepare you for the upcoming weekend of soccer action. Get your water cooler talking points (h/t Jon Chuckery) ahead of everyone else here every Friday morning.

1- Pity Martinez is officially an Atlanta United player

The current South American Player of the Year is coming to Major League Soccer and coming to Atlanta. This is a very important deal in the history of the league and Atlanta United. A player among the best 100 in the world (according to the Guardian) and voted as the best player playing in South America has chosen to come to MLS in their prime. A signing like this, after winning MLS Cup in December, is a huge statement by Atlanta United. After winning the Copa Libertadores in December, can Pity win the North American equivalent in the Concacaf Champions League?

2- What does this mean for Atlanta United’s roster?

MLS rules limit teams to three Designated Players. These are players whose contract and acquisition fee combined on a yearly basis through the life of their contract exceeds the league’s maximum salary. Currently, Atlanta has four DP’s in Josef Martínez, Pity Martínez, Miguel Almirón, and Ezequiel Barco. One has to be removed from the roster by the roster compliance date of March 1.

3- Miguel Almirón’s future

Since the end of the 2017 season, speculation has been rampant on when Miguel Almirón would try his luck in Europe. He and the club have been clear from the beginning that the time would come for that. It appears that both have decided that now is that time. However, finding a club to meet Atlanta United’s asking price has proven to take some time. The transfer window closes for major European leagues on January 31, next Thursday. Can a deal get done in time? Buckle up as silly season finds another gear of ridiculous.

4- Kaku’s future

While Atlanta is chasing a big money deal for Miguel Almirón, his Paraguayan national team teammate Kaku is making it clear that he wants to leave the New York Red Bulls. Reportedly, Club América made a $7M offer for him that would have seen a salary increase as well, but the Red Bulls countered with an ask for $12M. It has only gotten uglier from there with Kaku’s agent making some strong claims about how his client has been treated by the club and even Club América’s manager Miguel Herrera has chimed in on the whole affair. The transfer window for Liga MX closes next Thursday as well, we’ll see if Las Águilas can find a suitable price with the Red Bulls.

5- Gregory van der Wiel sent home from Toronto’s preseason camp

Brought in last year using Targeted Allocation Money, Gregory van der Wiel has been a winner at previous stops in his career at Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain. Toronto in 2018 did not add to his list of trophies won in his career, injuries forced the right back to play often as a center back and derailed the Reds’ hopes to defend their MLS Cup title. His 2019 campaign in Toronto is already over after a reported “altercation” with manager Greg Vanney and van der Wiel will leaving the club. van der Wiel posted a statement on Instagram including this: “Unfortunately year two will never come due to differences with the coaching staff. I just want to win and do that no matter what the consequences are. I guess that mentality was a little too much for them and they decided they do not need me for this season.”

6- Atlanta isn’t the only club with 4 Designated Players

The LA Galaxy rewarded Zlatan Ibrahimovic with an improved contract, which made him their fourth DP. They will have to figure out a way to get down to three before March 1. Speculation mounted regarding a potential trade of Romain Alessandrini to Montreal or a buyout of Giovani dos Santos’ contract, neither have happened yet. Alessandrini’s salary was barely over the Designated Player threshold in 2018 and could perhaps be rewarded with a new deal that would trade off an extra year or two for a slightly reduced salary figure that could be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money.

7- Alberth Elis still in Houston, for now

The talented Honduran was the subject of increased speculation about a transfer to Europe after giving an interview about the topic in December. Elis also made it clear that would be willing to stay in Houston. With the Dynamo joining Atlanta and three other MLS clubs in the Concacaf Champions League, Elis’ availability is critical for Houston to be competitive in the tournament along with putting together a season that sees them return to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

8- Could Atlanta United be making trips to Charlotte in a few years?

New Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has been clear from the very beginning about his interest in Major League Soccer. He told reporters last week, “We are having ongoing discussions with Major League Soccer,” said Tepper, whose personal fortune reportedly runs about $11 billion. “We’re talking about when they’ll take extra teams and when the time comes, we’ll be [ready]. We’re very much studying, very much focused on it. I personally believe that’s something that belongs in Charlotte.” One of Tepper’s first hires was team president Tom Glick, who was previously the chief commercial officer for City Football Group, the owners of the Premier League’s Manchester City and New York City FC.

9- Gregg Berhalter makes his debut as manager of the USMNT this weekend

The U.S. men’s national team starts 2019 with a match on Sunday night, hosting Concacaf rivals Panama in Phoenix at 8:00 p.m. Next Saturday, they will host Costa Rica in San Jose. These will be Berhalter’s first matches in charge of the squad since his hiring late last year. The roster for these matches comes entirely from MLS clubs. No Atlanta United players were selected, Berhalter made it clear that he wanted Brad Guzan and Darlington Nagbe to remain with the club as it prepares for the Concacaf Champions League and acclimates to new manager Frank de Boer.

10- Copa America groups set for this summer

Yesterday, the draw for the 2019 Copa América took place. The South American championship will be played from June 14-July 7. The ten South American national teams will be joined by Japan and Qatar in three groups of four. The group of death this time around is Group B with Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, and Qatar. Atlanta United fans will be watching roster announcements closely to see if Miguel Almirón and/or Tito Villalba are called up for Paraguay and if Pity Martínez is named to the Argentina squad. Josef Martínez’s Venezuela is in Group A alongside Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru.  

11- The USWNT took a split in their first matches of 2019

It’s a World Cup year for the U.S. women’s national team and they started their preparation with a short tour of Europe. A match against the World Cup hosts ended with France winning 3-1. The USWNT bounced back with a 1-0 win over Spain, Christen Press’ second half goal proving to be the difference. Manager Jill Ellis is trying to be the first to lead the USWNT to back-to-back World Cup titles. Next up for the team is the SheBelieves Cup where they will face Japan, Brazil, and England between between February 27-March 5.