Pity Martinez

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Top MLS Newcomers ahead of the 2019 season

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A handful of Major League Soccer sides are active in the CONCACAF Champions League, but all of the boys are back it this weekend with the start of the 2019 MLS league campaign.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-0 Watford ]

With a new season comes a lot of new faces. Here are five players to watch closely over the first few weeks of the season (Well, four… and one to most likely watch come April).

Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC* — The asterisks is our assumption that the Pozuelo move happens, with TFC reportedly splashing big cash in both salary and transfer fee to bring the 27-year-old from Genk at the end of the Jupiler Pro League’s regular season. Pozuelo has 7 goals and 18 assists between league play and the Europa League which is… pretty darn good.

Pity Martinez, Atlanta United — A 25-year-old attacker recently capped by Argentina, Pity starred in both matches of the Club World Cup for River Plate and has the potential to be the next big thing… and maybe not just in MLS.

Emmanuel Ledesma, FC Cincinnati — The former Middlesbrough man is deadly on set pieces and absolutely torched USL defenses last season. There’s little reason to think his production will drop off dramatically despite the jump in competitive levels.

Vito Mannone, Minnesota United — It’s difficult to put a goalkeeper on this list, but the Loons bringing Mannone into the side while also having veteran Bobby Shuttleworth and SuperDraft pick Dayne St. Clair on the books is a statement in itself. Mannone was not the reason Sunderland was relegated a few years, and was the picture of class in trying to help the Black Cats stay up.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — At 26 and coming to our shores from Deportivo de la Coruna after a brief but interesting spell at Aston Villa, he’s one of the litmus tests on display this season in MLS.

Honorable mention: Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC; Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC; Marco Fabian, Philadelphia Union; Orji Okwonkwo, Montreal Impact; Hwang in-Boem, Vancouver Whitecaps.

Five incoming MLS players who provide litmus tests

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Even with a name like Pogba in the running, it will not make the list of most intriguing MLS transfers so far this offseason (and there may be more to come, especially with Toronto FC holding a Designated Player spot and reportedly chasing a star in the Belgian top flight).

Though Paul’s older brother Florentin is an intriguing center back addition for champions Atlanta United — he’s a season-and-a-half removed from a very good Ligue 1 campaign for Saint-Etienne — he’s not close to the five players leaping to the front of our minds.

[ MORE: Rice chooses England ]

That list was made trickier to assemble this week when Philadelphia signed Mexican playmaker Marco Fabian from Eintracht Frankfurt. Where will he meet our list, if anywhere?

So we added another qualifier to our list, and that’s whether the player’s standing and form provide us any sort of litmus test for the current state of MLS.

There have been outlandish talents like Pity Martinez and rising international midfielders like Hwang In-Boem before, but the gentlemen below could help teach us some things.

Also, we’re going to cheat and include six players, on five teams. It’s our list.

Fabian, Philadelphia Union —  If there ever was a case to be made for an automatic game-changer, it’s Fabian. The Mexican 29-year-old is two seasons removed from significant playing time with Eintracht Frankfurt, but his first season was very good — 7 goals, 4 assists — and he’s scored against Germany and Iceland in the last two years for El Tri. If he doesn’t control games, MLS has progressed even more than we suspected.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — One day, La Liga players coming to MLS won’t be that big of a deal, and we’ll find out how accelerated that timeline has come in part through the play of Gil. The right winger and La Liga regular until this year has been with Deportivo de la Coruna’s second team all year. Is Brad Friedel the man to help Gil finally meet his potential head-on?

Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC — Boyd is one of the toughest-to-digest stories for American soccer, mostly because for a time it seemed he could be the next true USMNT star striker. But his time in the Bundesliga was cut by injuries, and he’s been unable to brand himself a regular 2.Bundesliga starter. It’s a rebirth story, but how quickly will he refind his footing? And is he a 10-goal contributor, which should be the minimum expectation, or a guy who can dominate a game?

Allan Cruz and Manu Ledezma, FC Cincinnati — The 22-year-old Cruz is one of the rising stars for Costa Rica, scoring against Peru in November after staring his first 7 appearances for Los Ticos. He’s moving from one of the biggest clubs in an inferior league to another CONCACAF testing ground.

As for Ledezma, the well-traveled 30-year-old Argentine absolutely tortured USL defenses last season, with 16 goals and 16 assists in 31 league games. The prior season, he bagged 10 goals with six assists in 19 NASL appearances with the New York Cosmos. MLS is a step-up, but not enough to deter optimism that the former Middlesbrough man cannot be a significant factor for manager Alan Koch.

Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC — Here’s another litmus test for the league, in a different way. Mitrita left the Romanian first tier — UEFA coefficient 26th — got some good experience in Italy’s top two tiers with Pescara, and came home to light his domestic league on fire. The next step here is an interesting one for both the development of a player and a league. Mitrita wasn’t a star in Italy, just productive. He’s on fire in Romania. We’ll guess it’s a little bit of the former, at least to start. He’s just 24, and will continue to improve.

Atlanta United sign Argentine star Pity Martinez

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Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez has finally arrived at Atlanta United.

The Argentine playmaker becomes the latest Designated Player to arrive at the reigning MLS Cup champions from South America, as the 25-year-old joined from River Plate for a reported $17 million transfer fee.

If that fee is correct that is the highest-ever transfer fee paid by an MLS club for a player.

Martinez was crowned the top player in South America in 2018 and his arrival will likely see Miguel Almiron leave ATL in the coming days. The latter has been long-linked with a move to Newcastle United in the Premier League.

Discussing Pity’s arrival in MLS, Atlanta’s vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said he is “an attacking player who can play wide or centrally. His abilities complement our style of play and we expect him to make a smooth transition to MLS.”

Pity is delighted to finally seal his move to Atlanta and play for their new manager Frank De Boer.

“I’m very excited to come to Major League Soccer and to join Atlanta United,” Martinez said. “The club has shown a lot of trust in me and I’m looking forward to working with Frank de Boer and my teammates to continue making history at the club.”

This is a big moment for Atlanta and MLS.

Being able to sign Pity from River Plate continues their strong link with the South American market as Almiron and Josef Martinez have been stars, while Ezequiel Barco played a key role later in the season and towards MLS Cup in 2018 after his arrival for $15 million. Barco’s signing was the previous record transfer fee for MLS until Pity’s arrival, with the teenager a purchase for the future. Pity will be a star in MLS right here, right now.

Signing the top player in South American soccer in his prime is a significant step for MLS and it cements Atlanta’s incredible quality, and depth, in their squad.

Despite the departure of Gerardo “Tata” Martino as manager last month — after he led them to two hugely successful opening years as a franchise — FDB will have the best squad in MLS by a country mile to work with.

It is pretty clear that Pity Martinez will become one of the faces of MLS in the years to come.

Reports: Atlanta seals deal for Pity Martinez, will head to club Jan. 1

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Atlanta United is still sorting out its Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup runs, but 2019 is also coming into focus.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Reports say that Argentine winger Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will indeed be the star Atlanta signs to offset to presumed sale of Miguel Almiron, who may be moving to Arsenal amongst several rumored European clubs.

Multiple reports say the Five Stripes’ pursuit of Martinez has paid off, with the River Plate man ready to bring his flashy game to Georgia.

Martinez has 25 goals and 23 assists in 136 matches, and will reportedly cost Atlanta around $17.2 million. TNT Los Angeles says the move will happen January 1.

Martinez debuted for Argentina’s senior national team last month, and scored on debut against Guatemala. He ticks all the boxes for technical director Carlos Bocanegra and president Darren Eales.

Reports: Atlanta eyes River Plate star as Almiron replacement (video)

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One of the more intriguing questions in Major League Soccer is what will Atlanta United do with the impending windfall that will arrive following the presumed sale of Miguel Almiron.

Almiron, 25, is looking for a European adventure in 2019 and has no shortage of suitors. He’ll net a significant fee, likely an MLS record.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Multiple reports say the Five Stripes are looking at Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, the 25-year-old Argentine playmaker with two caps for the Albiceleste. One report claims the move is “very close,” while The Athletic reports there is “still a lot to do” for the move to happen.

According to Transfermarkt, Martinez’s transfer value is about $5 million more than Almiron.

It’s not quite like-for-like, as Martinez is a more prolific finisher at the club level than Almiron was when he joined Atlanta.

Almiron scored nine times between 74 matches between Lanus and Cerro Porteno, while Martinez has 30 goals in 184 matches at a higher level with Huracan and River Plate (Lanus and both of Martinez’s clubs play in Argentina, while Cerro Porteno is in Almiron’s native Paraguay).

Tata Martino is expected to leave Atlanta, but perhaps this means that either the manager could be open to return or that United is eyeing another free-flowing, attack-minded boss.