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Report: Atlanta “playing poker” over Almiron

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Atlanta United seems prepared to ride out the January window in the hopes that it lands a better deal for Miguel Almiron.

[ MORE: Juve wins again ]

Atlanta president Darren Eales had made it clear that he wouldn’t be accepting any offer that doesn’t start with a 3, and West Ham initially was linked with interest in a $33 million Almiron move.

Newcastle United has been consistently linked with Almiron, but for no more than $19 million. Eales and Atlanta have stayed consistent in their stance.

Here’s South American football writer Tim Vickery, via The Chronicle:

“They have done very, very well out of him and it seems at the moment they are playing poker. They are prepared to wait until the end of the window to try and get the best deal possible for him. …

“So they have lined up a replacement and now it is all about playing poker until the closing of the transfer window, hoping that either they can get a better deal from Newcastle or they can smoke out some other interest.”

The end of the January window is moving closer. Atlanta has its Almiron replacement in the form of Pity Martinez, who is in the United States as the worst-kept secret in recent MLS history (although Ezequiel Barco, one of Atlanta’s other recent DPs, had a similar arc in his arrival).

Atlanta’s path toward selling Almiron and getting down to the MLS maximum of four Designated Players is a fascinating one. Clearly the club has a plan should no one reach their asking price, but what if famously-stingy Newcastle won’t budge any higher or, even worse, pulls out of the running?

Again, fascinating. And Atlanta is playing high stakes games with one of the most alluring transfer assets in the league.

As for Newcastle, you could make a Best XI with the players initially linked with the Magpies before the club balked at the fee and let another Premier League club buy the player: Michy Batshuayi, Alexandre Lacazette, Virgil Van Dijk, Dele Alli, Mohamed Salah

Almiron’s success in the Premier League is a big question mark, not because of talent or drive but because of size. There’s an air of uncertainty that comes with attackers coming from lesser leagues, and — even for Newcastle — it’s somewhat forgivable that the club isn’t rushing to meet the Five Stripes’ asking price.

Atlanta’s MLS Cup celebration is joyous, but short-lived

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ATLANTA (AP) Despite cold, drizzly weather, thousands of fans turned out Monday for a downtown parade and rally to celebrate the city’s first championship since 1995.

The revelry won’t last long.

Atlanta United must find a coach to replace Tata Martino and likely cope with the loss of star midfielder Miguel Almiron before returning to the field in February for their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“That puzzle exists every year in professional sports,” team owner Arthur Blank told reporters after the rally outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that. What we’ve built here is a sustainable, winning organization, so we’re looking forward to being back – not just competing, but being back on this stage a year from now.”

In just its second season since entering Major League Soccer as an expansion team, Atlanta United won the championship with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

Less than 48 hours later, the city toasted its first championship team since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series .

“We did it! We broke the curse!” said rapper Archie Eversole, whose song “We Ready” became a popular theme at home games.

The players rode a double-decker bus on the 1-mile-long parade route, holding up the cup for the cheering crowd as they passed the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Blank, team president Darren Eales and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revved up fans in convertibles at the front of the procession.

The parade ended in a grassy lot alongside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where some 15,000 turned out for a lunchtime rally also attended by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal.

“We’ve won a championship in only our second season,” Eales said. “That’s pretty incredible.”

In probably his last appearance with the team, Martino hammered in the golden spike while the crowd roared. The Argentine coach is reportedly headed to Mexico to become that country’s national team coach.

“Coach Martino is one of the great coaches in the world,” Blank said. “He saw the vision, he bought into the vision, and he executed the vision with this incredible group of players.”

That group will be changing.

Atlanta already made several moves, announcing the day after the game that it declined contract options on five players including captain Michael Parkhurst, though the 34-year-old defender is expected to return in 2019. The team said it has already begun negotiations on a new contract with Parkhurst, who finally won the MLS Cup after playing on four runner-up teams.

The biggest moves are still to come. Almiron, who was runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Josef Martinez, is expected to follow through on his desired move to Europe, which should bring United a hefty transfer fee.

The team seems to have already lined up a replacement.

Argentine star Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who scored the clinching goal in River Plate’s victory Sunday in the Copa Libertadores final, announced on the field right after the game that he’s leaving the team. He told media in his native country that he’s headed to Atlanta United.

Martinez, who scored a record 31 goals during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs , appears likely to remain with the team for at least one more season. He’s had much more success in MLS than his previous stint in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am going to be here as long as they want me,” Martinez said after winning the MVP award. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Atlanta United could target another South American coach as Martino’s replacement, with an eye toward maintaining a pipeline to promising young players from that continent. As Almiron has shown, the MLS can provide a useful steppingstone to those wishing to further their careers in Europe.

Among those mentioned as candidates: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who previously won the MLS Cup as a player in Columbus and coached Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final this season; along with Marcelo Bielsa, who has close ties to Martino and is currently managing Leeds in England’s second division.

Atlanta United will have an additional priority in 2019 after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continent’s top club competition. They will face Herediano in the two-legged opening round, with the first game to be played in Costa Rica in a Feb. 19-21 window before the second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week later.

That 16-team competition, which runs through the first of May, figures to be the team’s top priority in the early part of the 2019 season. The only U.S. team to win the title was D.C. United two decades ago.

But Atlanta is intent on defending its MLS championship, as well.

“It’s an honor to represent this city,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, saluting the fans who broke numerous attendance records during the club’s first two seasons. “We’ll be back next year to defend this cup.”

FOLLOW LIVE – ATLUTD host Timbers in MLS Cup 2018

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Atlanta United needed just two years to reach its first MLS Cup upon the league in 2017, and they’ll host Saturday’s final against the Portland Timbers to boot.

[ FOLLOW: Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers — MLS Cup 2018 ]

It’ll be the final game in which Gerardo “Tata” Martino picks the Five Stripes team and patrols the sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as he’s set to depart the club at the end of the season (reportedly set to take the Mexican national team job). It could very well be another final outing for one of — or two of — Atlanta’s superstars on the field: Miguel Almiron is expected to move to Europe during the January transfer window, and Josef Martinez has long been linked with a move back across the Atlantic Ocean.

With Martino leaving and two of his South American dynamos perhaps joining him, Saturday could very well signal the end of the first era of Atlanta United, giving way to the next head coach and (presumably) another wave of up-and-coming stars.

[ MORE: Groups for 2019 Women’s World Cup confirmed ]

Portland, on the other hand, is the team that wasn’t “supposed” to be left standing in the Western Conference. Having already knocked off the West’s first- and second-seeded sides in the playoffs — after surviving the knockout round on the road — Giovanni Savarese’s side has proven itself as a formidable, unrelenting foe on the 2018 season’s final day.

Hit the link above to follow along through Saturday’s final, and check back on PST for full coverage and analysis after the game.

LINEUPS

Atlanta: Guzan; Escobar, Parkhurst, Gonzalez-Pirez, Garza; Nagbe, Larentowicz, Remedi; Almiron, Gressel, Martinez | Subs: Clark, Tuiloma, Powell, Olum, Flores, Asprilla, Melano

Portland: Attinella; Valentin, Mabiala, Ridgewell, Villafaña; Chara, Guzman; Polo, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse | Subs: Kann, Robinson, McCann, Kratz, Villalba, Barco, Vazquez

Report: ‘Done deal’ for Almiron, Newcastle United

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The latest report involving Atlanta United’s soon-to-be sold star Miguel Almiron comes four days before his final match with the Five Stripes.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay in LA? ]

Readying for Sunday’s MLS Cup Final against Portland, the 24-year-old Paraguayn playmaker is said to be moving to Newcastle United for a $19 million price.

One reason to doubt the report is the price tag, though perhaps the market has dictated a “lower” fee for the prolific Almiron. Atlanta executive Darren Eales had spoken of a $33 million fee, something that West Ham was said to be willing to meet. Crystal Palace is also linked with the midfielder.

Almiron has 13 goals and 13 assists in 37 games including playoffs and cup competitions for Atlanta this season.

American reporter Roberto Rojas says the move could be a short-term loan with an option to buy, though that seems insane for Atlanta. A move is going to happen for Almiron in January, whether it’s this one remains to be seen.

Report: Newcastle keen on $32 million Miguel Almiron

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Newcastle United are the latest Premier League club to been linked with a move for Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron.

The Paraguayan playmaker has been superb in Major League Soccer during Atlanta’s first two seasons as a club, but the 24 year-old is expected to move on in January and follow manager Gerardo Martino out of the door.

Per the report from the Daily Mail, Newcastle will hold talks with Atlanta’s representatives around the second leg of their Eastern Conference final against the New York Red Bulls (Atlanta leads the series 3-0). Almiron has scored 12 goals and added 14 assists this season and his overall play saw him named in the MLS Team of the Year.

West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have all been linked with a move for Almiron, but there would be a doubt over whether the silky attacker would be a regular at the latter two clubs.

Newcastle and West Ham would perhaps be a better place for him to land if he wants to play regularly in the Premier League, as Almiron would take a while to adjust to the physicality of the PL. His quality on the ball, vision and ability to start attacks is undoubted.

But can we really see Newcastle splashing out $32 million on a player? If they did, owner Mike Ashley would silence plenty of his doubters about not spending money on new players.

Considering Rafael Benitez’s biggest buy since Newcastle were promoted back to the PL last season has been $15 million on Jacob Murphy, I think we can surmise that Almiron is more likely to end up at Spurs, Arsenal or West Ham.