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CCL Rewind: Atlanta United completes epic comeback to advance

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Before the match, Atlanta United’s chances of advancing to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League were slim. That all changed inside the first minute of the game.

Josef Martinez’s goal in the first 60 seconds set the tone as Atlanta United went on to rout Costa Rican side Herediano, 4-0, winning 5-3 on aggregate. Martinez finished with two goals, including the one that finally put Atlanta United ahead midway through the second half. Julian Gressel scored in the ninth minute while defender Leandro Gonzalez Pires powered home a header in the 83rd minute to put the finishing touches on the match.

[READ: Projecting the next USMNT squad]

Whether due to early-season jitters, the playing surface or rustiness, Atlanta United did not look its former self in the first leg of the encounter. On Thursday night, it looked like the dominant Atlanta United of old, even though they played at Kennesaw St.’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Frank De Boer stuck with his 3-4-3 formation, though he brought in Brek Shea, who created a spark down the left for the first goal. Shea’s cross was mis-cleared right into the path of Martinez, who finished for a goal.

The intensity and performance should help Atlanta carry the early-season momentum in MLS into the next round of the Champions League. Plus, as Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco grow in chemistry, so exciting attacking options should be on display one day.

Atlanta United cuts McCann just weeks before season begins

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It’s not often that MLS teams cut veteran players a few weeks into preseason training.

But that’s what happened on Saturday, as Atlanta United announced the departure of utility player Chris McCann. The Irishman spent two seasons with ATLUTD as a team original, deputizing in both his natural central midfield and out on the left as a left wing back.

[READ: Solskjaer hails Pogba after win]

One possible reason for the decision to cut McCann before the start of the season could be due to his large cap hit, as Atlanta United looks to potentially bring in more players or better pay for Josef and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez’s (no relation) contracts. McCann earned a total compensation package last season of $588,000, despite playing 22 games and scoring just one goal with no assists. At 31-years old, it may have been time for Atlanta United to look for younger players in his position.

In addition, with George Bello a year older and Brek Shea brought in, Atlanta United has plenty of options at left wing back this season.

The timing is rough for McCann. There’s still time for him to latch on to another MLS club if he wants to stay in the U.S., but it would be difficult for him to go back to England, with most team’s rosters set after the end of the January transfer window.

Steffen wins USMNT award; Speaks on Man City transfer

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Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen has been named U.S. Soccer’s Male Athlete of the Year.

The longtime Columbus Crew backstop, who will be with the club until summer, was the 2018 Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year.

[ MORE: Zlatan a new DP with Galaxy ]

For country, Steffen earned his first six USMNT caps. One of those was a stunning performance in a 1-1 draw against France.

Steffen, 23, says he’s honored to be among the list of award winners in USMNT history.

He also talked about his upcoming move to Man City, via USSoccer.com:

“They’re a top-five team in the world – if not the best right now. I’m well aware of how good Ederson is, and I know I need to grow and get better in a lot of different areas. But my mentality is that when I get over there, I want to play. I’m really highly motivated to get the most out of these next six months in Columbus, and hopefully with the national team. I’m going to really push myself so that when I get to Manchester next summer, I’m that much more confident and prepared.”

Alex Mendez won the Young Male Player of the Award award, and like Steffen he’ll leave the U.S. for a new club in 2019.

The LA Galaxy product, 18, scored a goal with three assists for LA Galaxy II in the USL this season, and will join Freiburg — Steffen’s former club — in January.

Mendez will star for the U.S. U-20s at the World Cup in Poland this summer after appearing in 13 matches for the team this year.

U.S. Soccer provided this list of previous award winners.

Year Male Player of the Year Young Male Player of the Year
2018 Zack Steffen Alex Mendez
2017 Christian Pulisic Josh Sargent
2016 Jozy Altidore (2) Christian Pulisic
2015 Michael Bradley Matt Miazga
2014 Tim Howard (2) DeAndre Yedlin
2013 Jozy Altidore Wil Trapp
2012 Clint Dempsey (3) Rubio Rubin
2011 Clint Dempsey (2) Brek Shea
2010 Landon Donovan (4) Gale Agbossoumonde
2009 Landon Donovan (3) Luis Gil
2008 Tim Howard Sacha Kljestan
2007 Clint Dempsey Michael Bradley
2006 Oguchi Onyewu Jozy Altidore
2005 Kasey Keller (3) Benny Feilhaber
2004 Landon Donovan (2) Eddie Johnson
2003 Landon Donovan Freddy Adu
2002 Brad Friedel Bobby Convey
2001 Earnie Stewart DaMarcus Beasley
2000 Chris Armas Landon Donovan
1999 Kasey Keller (2) Ben Olsen
1998 Cobi Jones Josh Wolff
1997 Kasey Keller
1996 Eric Wynalda
1995 Alexi Lalas
1994 Marcelo Balboa (2)
1993 Thomas Dooley
1992 Marcelo Balboa
1991 Hugo Perez
1990 Tab Ramos
1989 Mike Windischmann
1988 Peter Vermes
1987 Brent Goulet
1986 Paul Caligiuri
1985 Perry Van der Beck
1984 Rick Davis

Klinsmann: USMNT could have made semifinals in Russia

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In an alternate universe, the U.S. Men’s National Team not only qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but advances to the semifinals.

This is the universe that’s occupied by former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann. In a pair of interviews with Yahoo Sports and Sports Illustrated that were posted this week, Klinsmann stated he could see the U.S. making a semifinal in either Russia or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[READ: Wilshere disappointed to not be selected for World Cup]

“I realistically saw a group growing into the World Cup 2018 that could go into a semifinal,” Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann added later in the interview, “It was so valuable to play Copa America because it gave the players a sense of where they were, that they can beat South American opponents, good teams like Paraguay, Ecuador,” he said. “I think it was really huge for that group of players.”

Obviously this is bonkers on so many levels. The U.S. were on a downward spiral following the 2014 World Cup and the horrendous defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica back to back to open up the Hex were the last straw.

Due to the “lost generation” of players, Klinsmann and his successor Bruce Arena had to over rely on aging stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley as well as young players like Christian Pulisic, who at the time was just 18-years old and was too young to put the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders.

It’s easy for Klinsmann to go on a redemption tour a month out of the World Cup and claim what could have been, and perhaps it’s not necessarily his fault that the likes of Bobby Wood, Brek Shea, Gyasi Zardes, Matt Hedges and many others never developed into top-level players like Dempsey and Bradley. But while it’s likely the U.S. would have qualified, the World Cup squad would have to look a lot younger than the qualifying squad – Arena admitted as much last year.

And it’s unlikely such a young squad could have made a run to the semifinals.

The best (and worst) valued MLS players

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Sometimes it’s difficult to remember all the rules and regulations that Major League Soccer has implemented, particularly when it comes to TAM and GAM, but one area that has become more transparent over the years is player contracts, courtesy of the league’s Players Union.

The MLS PA once again released its list of contracts for every active player in the league, as well as several free agents, earlier this week, which made us think: which players are the best and worst values based on their current salaries?

Pro Soccer Talk took a deeper look at each team’s current crop of players, and picked the 10 best and 10 worst contracts.

So, here we go.

In the typical good-bad news situation we usually like to get the bad out of the way first, so that’s where we will start.


WORST CONTRACTS

LA Galaxy attacker Giovani dos Santos ($6 million)

To say that the El Tri forward hasn’t lived up to his billing in MLS is an understatement. His underperformance with the club can be overshadowed a bit by the production of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini, but Dos Santos’ goal output since the end of 2016 has been at a bare minimum (eight goals).

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/defender Brek Shea ($745,000)

It’s fair to make the claim that Shea hasn’t lived up to the hype after leaving Dallas in 2012, and the fact that the Texas-native is currently the second-highest Whitecaps player speaks to that. Deployed primarily as a winger, Shea has scored just 10 goals since returning to MLS in 2015, and has completely fall out of the U.S. Men’s National Team picture.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya ($1.2 million)

To put Bedoya’s contract into perspective, the USMNT midfielder earns more than Federico Higuain, Sacha Kljestan and Alberth Elis. It’s been a rocky road for the third-year Union player.

D.C. United’s Zoltan Stieber ($999,000)

The Hungarian has been underwhelming thus far in a D.C. kit despite being the club’s top-earning player. Two goals and two assists since last summer is one of the reasons why D.C. has struggled so mightily.

FC Dallas forward Cristian Colman ($585,000)

Dallas has lost several important players in the attack over the years, but the addition of Colman was supposed to ease the blow for the Western Conference power. Instead, the Paraguayan has three goals to show in 33 appearances for the club.

Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu ($719,000)

The former Bologna man has been underwhelming since joining the Impact, which hasn’t helped the team’s willingness to find a legitimate replacement for Didier Drogba.

Portland Timbers midfielder Lucas Melano ($1 million)

The Argentine player is currently in his native country on loan at Estudiantes, but still bringing in over $1 million. Since joining the Timbers in 2015, Melano has scored just four goals for the Western Conference side.

New York City FC forward Jo Inge Berget ($816,000)

This is another player who is early into their MLS career, but the early signs aren’t very promising for an NYCFC side that has desperately searched for a second front option for the instances when David Villa isn’t available. Berget thrived in Europe, but he has struggled to make an impact in the Bronx.

Real Salt Lake’s Alfredo Ortuno ($1.1 million)

In three appearances this season, Ortuno has zero goals and no shots to speak of. Mike Petke’s side hasn’t had good luck with forwards over recent years, and unless Ortuno picks up his form, it could be another Yura Movsisyan situation.

Colorado Rapids keeper Tim Howard ($2.4 million)

It’s not to say that Howard isn’t still a capable goalkeeper, which he is, but the Rapids severely overspent on a position where you simply don’t have to shell out that sort of money. Goalkeepers like Tim Melia, Luis Robles, Zach Steffen and Stefan Frei could have all four of their contracts combined, and still come up significantly short of Howard’s salary.


BEST CONTRACTS

Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron & Josef Martinez ($2.2 million, $1.3 million)

We’ll start off with a pair from the same team. It would be shocking if one, if not both, players end up in Europe in the very future, so the fact that these players aren’t even in the top 10 Designated Player salaries is a sign of some very good business from Atlanta. The duo have combined for 41 goals in less than two full seasons with the Five Stripes.

Sporting KC winger Johnny Russell ($699,000)

It’s been a small sample size, but Sporting KC has to be very, very happy with its addition of Russell this winter. Five goals and two assists for the former Derby County midfielder, Russell has brought another creative influence to Peter Vermes’ attack.

NY Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams & Aaron Long ($153,000, $73,000)

In a way, it’s almost unfair to pick just two players from the Red Bulls because manager Jesse Marsch and technical director Dennis Hamlett have done such a tremendous job building this roster. Adams and Long stand out though because of what they have done in controlling the center of the park. For Long, in particular, he’s quickly become one of the best central defenders in MLS, making Matt Miazga an afterthought for Red Bulls supporters.

Colorado Rapids forward Dominique Badji ($168,000)

It’s hard to imagine that Badji has been in MLS for four seasons already, but the Rapids striker has proven to be one of the few consistent attacking pieces for the club. After tallying nine goals in 2017, Badji is alright more than halfway to that total, and should shatter his personal best this season.

Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies ($72,000)

At 17, Davies has the makings of a special talent. The Canada international doesn’t light up the score sheet, but Davies is one of the most exciting wingers in MLS and is the type of player you want out wide to provide great service into the box. Any team would sign up for his contract in a heartbeat.

D.C. United’s Yamil Asad ($520,000)

Asad was often overshadowed in Atlanta last year due to the star power on that squad, and now he’s still a bit under appreciated because of D.C.’s lack of success, but make no mistake that he is one of the top wingers in MLS. D.C. did well to keep him in the U.S., but now Ben Olsen needs to go out and support Asad with more talented players.

Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis ($650,000)

The 22-year-old is on pace to break into double-digit goals for his second consecutive season in MLS, and is a natural fit to replace the departed Erick “Cubo’ Torres. Elis played a big role in the Dynamo making the playoffs last season, and he likely will be a driving force again in 2018 if Houston qualifies.

Los Angeles FC defender Laurent Ciman ($661,000)

It was a steal when the expansion side managed to pull him away from the Montreal Impact, and the league’s most consistent center back has proven to be worth every penny for Bob Bradley‘s side. LA FC has dazzled with its many exciting attacking pieces, but Ciman has held down the fort defensively.