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MLS 2018: Designated Players at Atlanta United

The 'Designated Player Rule' was adopted in the 2007 MLS season, a rule which allows clubs to pay transfer fees or pay higher wages for players. David Beckham was the first 'DP' in MLS history when he signed for LA Galaxy in 2007. Ahead of the 2018 season we take a look at the current Designated Player's at some of the 23 clubs in MLS, with our first stop taking us to Atlanta United. All aboard.

The Designated Player Rule in MLS

We've broken down what the rule means when a player signs for a club as a 'DP'.

- Adopted for the 2007 MLS season

- The rule allows each MLS team to sign players that are outside of the salary cap that is set by the league

- Designated Players may be new players signed to MLS via the Allocation Ranking List, Discovery Process or can be re-signed existing players on a team's roster.

- Clubs have the option of using allocation money against a player's contract in some instances, avoiding the need to be listed as a 'DP'

- Each team in MLS can have 3 DP's listed in their squads

Atlanta United (ATL)

Atlanta are entering their second season in MLS, and impressed heavily in their first season. Finishing 4th in the competitive Eastern Conference and being eliminated in the first round of the MLS Cup, the squad is backed at the helm by former Barcelona and Argentina coach, Gerardo Martino, with the club looking to better their performances from last season.

There's a South American attacking flair associated with Atlanta's forward line in MLS, and this is highlighted by their Designated Player's. The trio of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Ezequiel Barco, are all attack minded players, with Barco the most recent addition.

Last season, Héctor Villalba, another Argentine who plays on the wing, was listed as a DP, but his salary has been absorbed into the salary cap at the club, meaning he is no longer a DP. Last season Villalba was listed as a Young Designated Players, having signed from San Lorenzo in Argentina.

Miguel Almirón (Attacking Midfielder):

First up for dissection is Atlanta's attacking midfielder, Miguel Almiron, who made quite the splash last season in his maiden MLS season. The 24 year-old Paraguay international already has 10 international caps and appeared in 30 league matches last season for an Atlanta side who made it to the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup.

Almiron plays behind the Forward, Josef Martinez, with Atlanta favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation, meaning Almiron operates in the Number 10 position, and is expected to be flanked by Héctor Villalba on the right wing, and new signing Ezequiel Barco on the left wing.

Below you can read the stats behind Almiron's 2017 MLS season.

- Almirón scored nine goals and added a team-high 14 assists in his first MLS season, as the Paraguayan playmaker was at the heart of an Atlanta attack that finished second in MLS with 70 goals scored.

- Almirón was voted an MLS All-Star, was a finalist for the 2017 MLS MVP and won MLS Newcomer of the Year.

- Almiron was named the No. 1 player on MLS’ 24 under 24 list in 2017. Two-time MLS Player of the Week.

- Named to MLS Team of the Week seven times and won MLS Goal of the Week on three occasions.

- Played in 30 matches and made 27 starts.

- MLS Cup Playoffs: Played all 120 minutes against Columbus.

- US Open Cup: Played 90 minutes in 3-2 win over Columbus on June 14.

Josef Martínez (Forward):

Another 24-year old attacking is up next, with Forward Josef Martinez providing the prong in Atlanta's attack. The Venezuela international has scored 9 goals in 38 appearances for his national side, and is most definitely on the rise in MLS as Atlanta continue to build a vibrant and young side that is making the competition stand up and take notice.

Martinez joined Atlanta United with more than 100 professional appearances spread across the first divisions of Venezuela, Switzerland and Italy. In his three seasons with Serie A outfit Torino, Martinez scored 13 goals while adding six assists in 76 appearances. In league competition, Martinez netted 7 times in 58 appearances for the Italian side.

In Martinez's first MLS season, he scored more in once season than he did in his three seasons in Italy combined, and you can view his 2017 stats below.

Below you can read the stats behind Martinez's 2017 MLS season.

- Martinez scored 19 goals in only 17 starts in his debut MLS season, the most ever by a player on an expansion team.

- Martínez’s three hat tricks in one season tied an MLS mark while his 0.95 goals per game average ranks third in league history amongst players with a least five goals scored in a single season.

- Two-time MLS Player of the Month (March, September) and two-time MLS Player of the Week.

- Named to MLS Team of the Week four times and voted MLS Goal of the Week once. 20 appearances and 17 starts.

- MLS Cup Playoffs: Started and played 114 minutes against Columbus.

- US Open Cup: Played 90 minutes and scored one goal in 3-2 win over Charleston on June 14.

Ezequiel Barco (Attacking Midfielder):

For Atlanta's inaugural MLS season they loaned Yamil Asad from Vélez Sarsfield in the Argentine Primera División. Asad was a key member of the squad, playing 32 times in the regular season and primarily played on the left wing for Atlanta, scoring 7 goals and assisting 13 times.

In MLS Fantasy terms, Asad was Atlanta's top performing Midfielder with 199 points, which is 3 more points than Almiron. Right-winger Héctor Villalba was listed as a Forward for the 2017 season and finished on 192 points. This highlights the pedigree that has been lost to Atlanta this season.

Reports suggest that the club tried to sign the winger in a permanent deal, but talks between Atlanta and Sarsfield broke down. Atlanta turned their attention to a new signing for the 2018 season, with Argentine Ezequiel Barco joining the club from Independiente, who like Sarsfield play in the Argentine Primera División.

The price tag for Barco is an estimated $15 million dollars, which is the largest transfer fee in MLS history by a significant margin; Toronto FC paid Italian Serie A side Roma $10 million for U.S. international Michael Bradley in January 2017. In terms of ambition, Atlanta United have plenty and want to become a powerhouse in the league, and fees paid for Barco are just short of Newcastle United's highest transfer fee for a player (which was a £16.8 million fee for Michael Owen in 2006).

The 18 year-old is expected to fill the shoes left behind by Asad, with the attacking play-maker playing 38 times for Independiente across two seasons of football. Barco has also made 13 career appearances in Copa Sundamericana and three appearances in the Copa Argentina. Barco has featured with Argentina’s U-20 National Team, most recently during the U-20 South American Championship.

Barco fits the bill of being an attack minded Argentine under the age of 25, which is a feature of Atlanta's identity under Martino. Barco will most likely be a starting from the first game this season, though as Fantasy specialists we'll be worried that the 18 year-old will have his minutes managed in the first season as he acclimitises to life in MLS.

Since signing Barco, Yamil Asad is expected to sign for MLS outfit D.C. United in time for the start of the 2018 season.

In MLS Fantasy...

Ahead of his debut season the MLS record signing is priced at $10.0 million in MLS Fantasy this season, which is $0.5 million cheaper than Miguel Almiron ($10.5) and Josef Martinez ($11.0m).

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All aboard.


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