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MLS: Valeri re-signs with Timbers, and more

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The Portland Timbers are bringing back their fan-favorite former MVP winner on a new, long-term contract.

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The Timbers announced on Monday that it had agreed to a multi-year contract, using target allocation money (TAM) with Diego Valeri. The news ends a months-long saga that had fans fearing Valeri could leave as a free agent this winter. Valeri was reportedly still seeking Designated Player level money, so it took some financial maneuvering with TAM to make this deal work.

Valeri has seen his goal numbers drop significantly the last couple of seasons since his 21 goals in 2017, but he did have 16 assists last year. However, at age 33, you wonder how much more he has left in the tank.

Either way, it’s a huge boost to the Timbers that Valeri is back. He’s a fixture in Portland, he makes this team better, and now the Timbers can focus on adding more attacking pieces to their squad. There’s two Designated Player slots open and the Timbers are usually open to spending big on a signing. Now, the attention turns to a new Designated Player coming this month or in January.

Here’s some more news across MLS:

Report: Brazilian club Gremio interested in Martinez

It’s safe to say that Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez’s first season in MLS didn’t exactly go to plan.

Now, if the reports are true, he could find his way back to South America, albeit not to his former club River Plate. According to TYC Sports, Brazilian club Gremio are interested in adding Martinez for their 2020 season. Gremio finished in fourth place in Brazil’s Serie A Championship this past season, earning them entry into the 2020 Copa Libertadores as well.

Should Martinez want to head back to South America, he could do worse than joining one of Brazil’s giant clubs and getting the chance to play in the Copa Libertadores.

Should Martinez stay, he could take advantage from a full preseason with Atlanta United and potentially a better relationship with coach Frank De Boer. The two clashed at times last year.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

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It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.


Larentowicz re-signs with Atlanta United for 16th MLS season

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ATLANTA — Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz will be returning to Atlanta United for his 16th season in Major League Soccer.

The team announced Thursday it has re-signed the 36-year-old free agent, who has been with United since the team’s debut in 2017.

Larentowicz has the second-most appearances in MLS history (418) and ranks third in starts (386). He had 40 goals and 23 assists in his career, which began with New England in 2005 and also includes stints with Colorado, Chicago and LA Galaxy.

Larentowicz helped Atlanta win the MLS Cup in just its second season. He had 27 league appearances and 15 starts in 2019 , when United captured the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

Julian Gressel’s quest for USMNT eligibility hits potential snag

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According to a report by Sam Stejskal of The Athletic, Atlanta United winger Julian Gressel has aspirations of playing for the U.S. National Team, but with two-and-a-half years to go before he’s eligible, his contract situation at the club level hangs in the balance, leaving his pathway to citizenship in serious question.

The 25-year-old German-born winger was the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS draft out of Providence, and having married an American he met in college, there is a path to naturalization in spring of 2022 and thus eligibility for the USMNT ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which is set to start in November. However, Gressel is in the final year of his contract at Atlanta United, with the club exercising his 2020 option last week.

The Athletic report claims that Gressel does not want to play on the contract option which pays him $133,000 for the season in guaranteed money, but the two sides have reportedly yet to begin negotiations on a longer deal. Gressel doesn’t know what will happen in terms of his long-term future at the club, but says he has absolutely thought about his potential future with the United States.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” Gressel told Stejskal of playing for the USMNT. “It’d be awesome, it’d be really cool to be a part of [the upcoming World Cup], but obviously that’s where it kind of all comes back together with the contract situation. You’re kind of just weighing that out and kind of seeing how it goes, because if I stay here obviously that becomes more a realistic opportunity for me, I believe. So this offseason is kind of a big thing, or until the summer maybe, who knows?”

Gressel said he feels like the United States has become “my home” and says he “loves” Atlanta United, so there’s absolutely a desire to get a deal done, but his projected 2020 salary ranks almost half the 2019 average MLS salary for non-designated players ($346,000), a paltry figure for a player who has 17 goals and 34 assists in two years with the club.

The former Providence man would absolutely be an option for the USMNT should he become eligible before the World Cup, and Stejskal reports that Gregg Berhalter has made contact with Gressel’s representatives. The USMNT is incredibly short on wide players, with Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris becoming regulars over the past year, while Tyler Boyd and Corey Baird have also been options for Berhalter of late.

MLS club Atlanta United partners with Scotland’s Aberdeen FC

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ATLANTA — Atlanta United has announced a strategic partnership with Scottish club Aberdeen FC.

The Major League Soccer team will be investing $2.57 million to gain a minority ownership stake of less than 10% in the four-time Scottish Premiership champions.

United President Darren Eales will join Aberdeen’s board of directors, but Atlanta will not be involved in day-to-day operations of the Dons.

Eales says the deal is a chance for United to expand its global reach, while advising Aberdeen FC on ways to improve its game-day experience as it pushes for a new stadium.

Atlanta United has set numerous MLS attendance records and won the league championship in 2018. The team has averaged more than 50,000 fans per game the last two seasons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Aberdeen FC is pushing for a new facility to replace 120-year-old Pittodrie Stadium.

United’s partnership with Aberdeen is part of a $6.42 million investment led by software entrepreneur Dave Cormack, a native of Aberdeen who now lives in Atlanta.

Cormack, a United season ticket holder, is set to take over as Aberdeen FC chairman.