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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.

Three things we learned from Atlanta United-Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Level at one but holding the hosts at bay, Toronto FC looked content to drag the life out of the Eastern Conference Final. One of its attackers had other ideas, though, as Nick DeLeon dribbled into and then out of traffic to smash a shot past Brad Guzan from outside the box and earn the Reds their third MLS Cup Final berth in four years (all against Seattle Sounders).

The Five Stripes came out of the gates hot in both halves. Julian Gressel rolled a ball over the line in the fourth minute of the first half and Atlanta won a penalty with embellishment only to see Quentin Westberg deny Josef Martinez from the spot. Both Westberg and Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan were very decent in the first half, Nicolas Benezet’s equalizer a curling thing of beauty. A league with almost unrivaled home field advantage saw two celebrated home sides beaten by cagey former champions. MLS is a riot.

One more note: Here’s a nod to USMNT hero Michael Parkhurst, whose career ends one match short of another final.

“I have to say that today was resiliency,” said manager Greg Vanney. “It wasn’t beautiful soccer. These guys refused to give up, kept looking for their moment and got it. I don’t think there were too many statistical categories we won.”

[ MORE: Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal | GK hero reacts ]

Three things we learned

1. Bradley, TFC caught sleeping early: Toronto FC’s hopes of taking the Mercedes Benz Stadium crowd out of this one took a seismic shake when Michael Bradley somehow didn’t realize Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was right behind him to blaze onto a terrific through ball from in-form Ezequiel Barco. Martinez held onto the ball as long as possible before sending a pass to Gressel for as easy a finish as you’ll see at this level. 1-0 in the fourth minute. Bradley then conceded a penalty to an embellishing but fouled Martinez, but French-American goalkeeper Quentin Westberg bailed him out with a fine save on Josef Martinez to keep the deficit at one. Buy him dinner, MB90.

2. TFC makes only attacking moments count: Nicolas Benezet quickly restored the deadlock with a terrific finish from the corner of the box. The ex-Guingamp midfielder ran onto a marvelous diagonal pass from center back Laurent Ciman. Benezet cut in freom the left and spun a curling effort toward the back post that ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan could not rescue before it rippled the netting for 1-1 in the 14th minute. You could argue that there wasn’t another threat from the Canadian side until DeLeon’s winner, which was a smashing shot to cap a smash and grab.

3. Westberg, Mavinga keep Reds in the match: Yes, of course, the penalty kick save was an outstanding moment for the former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeeper, but he would be needed many times over the course of the match including two moments in the first few moments of the second half. Decisive off his line and composed on it, the 33-year-old continues to validate Greg Vanney’s decision to put him in the lineup over MLS Cup winner Nick Bono. As for Chris Mavinga, the physical Congolese defender was a force. A few days after a Man of the Match performance in New York, Mavinga rebounded from an in-game injury to make two decisive interventions in the final five minutes.

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Man of the match: Westberg.

Goalscorers: Gonzalo Martinez (4′), Nicolas Benezet (14′), Nick DeLeon (78′)

NYCFC rides Mitrita 1st half hat trick to cusp of East’s No. 1 seed

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Alexandru Mitrita has heated up in a big way at the right time.

New York City’s Romanian winger scored three goals in the first 34 minutes of play of a massive match against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

NYC rode those goals to a 4-1 win, with a Pity Martinez penalty the only concession and a Heber marker in the 87th minute the finishing touch.

[ ROUNDUP: Insane League Cup match day yields ‘cupsets’ ]

That gives him six goals and two assists in his last six matches. Pretty good stuff as NYCFC is on the verge of clinching the No. 1 spot in the East, which could happen as soon as Philadelphia’s trip to San Jose for a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Maxi Moralez assisted Mitrita’s second goal, and became just the third player in MLS history to register 20 assists in a season (Carlos Valderrama and Sacha Kljestan).

Atlanta can no longer catch NYC, and the Philadelphia Union are nine points back with three matches to play. City has two, has 12 goals better differential, and travels to Chester to face the Union on Decision Day.

The Heber goal was stupid, as he tackled Leandro Gonzalez Pirez before putting Brad Guzan on a Slip ‘N Slide.

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)

Pity, 10-man Atlanta United hold on for U.S. Open Cup crown

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It’s taken Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez some time to get used to these United States, but he’s in the sweet spot now.

He’s also a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion.

Martinez scored six minutes after a Minnesota United own goal as Atlanta United built an early lead and held on through a Leandro Gonzalez Pirez red card at Mercedes Benz Stadium on Tuesday.

It’s Atlanta’s first USOC title, the first won by a team from Georgia, and joins the club’s 2018 MLS Cup in the trophy case

To borrow an adjective from PST’s Joe Prince-Wright, the second half was pulsating.

Atlanta’s first goal came when Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s cross was partially blocked but took a turn into the goal in the 10th minute.

After failing to record a goal or assist in his first eight MLS contests, Pity Martinez posted three goals and seven assists in his next 18 plus two goals in the Open Cup.

Minnesota pulled one back just after the break to reinvigorate the match.

It was Robin Lod who produced the goal, the Finnish national team hitting a shot that deflected past Brad Guzan.

Pirez made it more tense when he took his second yellow card in the 74th minute.

Ike Opara missed a first half chance, but thought he made up for it in stoppage time. His would-be equalizing assist was popped over the bar by Michael Boxall.