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Atlanta United’s key offseason dates and what they mean

It is going to be a busy offseason for the Five Stripes.

Oct 30, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United players huddle before their match against the Toronto FC during the Eastern Conference Final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 30, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United players huddle before their match against the Toronto FC during the Eastern Conference Final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta United’s 2019 season is over, but the coming offseason may generate as many headlines. As Frank de Boer molds the Five Stripes’ roster to his liking, a number of players may be on the way in and out. Below are the dates to know this offseason and how they might affect Atlanta.

Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET: Offseason trade window opens

Nov. 13, 8 p.m.: Offseason trade window closes and blackout period begins

What it means for Atlanta: In the immediate aftermath of MLS Cup, the offseason kicks into high gear. Atlanta got a taste of this whirlwind process last season when, a day after the Five Stripes hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz trophy, fan-favorite fullback Greg Garza was traded to FC Cincinnati.

Atlanta will be active again in the coming trade window. The Five Stripes have agreed to send midfielder Darlington Nagbe to the Columbus Crew for a big pile of allocation money, and the deal will be announced after the window opens. Atlanta has a few more roster questions this offseason — could anyone else be on the move next week?

Nov. 14: Deadline to submit “bona fide offers”

What it means for Atlanta: “Bona fide offers” are made to players who are out of contract at the end of the 2019 season but not eligible for free agency. To enter free agency, an out-of-contract player must be 28 years old and have played at least eight MLS seasons. Those who do not meet these parameters and who do not receive new contracts by this Nov. 14 deadline will participate in the MLS re-entry process. It is not clear which Atlanta players fall into this category.  

Nov. 16, 10 a.m.: List of players eligible for selection in 2019 MLS Expansion Draft released

Nov. 19, 5 p.m.: MLS Expansion Draft

What it means for Atlanta: Five teams who had players taken by FC Cincinnati in last year’s expansion draft — D.C. United, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo and the New York Red Bulls — are not in danger of losing players this year. Every other MLS team can protect up to 12 players from its senior, supplemental and reserve rosters ahead of the expansion draft. Any unprotected player can be selected by Inter Miami or Nashville SC. Each expansion side will take five players in the draft.

Generation Adidas and homegrown players, barring some stipulations, are automatically protected.

Nov. 21, 1 p.m.: Deadline to exercise contract options

What it means for Atlanta: This may be the biggest offseason date for the Five Stripes. Midfielder/winger Julian Gressel and center back Leandro González-Pírez have appeared in a combined 193 regular-season games for Atlanta since the team debuted in 2017. The team has 2020 contract options for both players, and if new deals are not reached, they would both enter the re-entry process after next season.

Gressel and González-Pírez have expressed desires to stay in Atlanta, but neither wants to go into next season without a new, more lucrative contract. González-Pírez told the Athletic he would be interested if an offer came from a team in Europe, but he does not want to play for another MLS franchise out of loyalty to Atlanta. Still, if the Five Stripes elected to trade the Argentine within the league or field an offer from, say, a team in Argentina, González-Pírez would not have much recourse.

Gressel on Thursday expressed frustration with his contract negotiations and said Atlanta has been quiet lately. He is routinely described by fans as pundits as one of MLS’ most underpaid players. The 2017 SuperDraft pick earned $132,999.96 in the third year of his rookie contract this season. Gressel has 15 goals and 35 assists over three MLS regular seasons.

“I love the city. I love the club,” he said at Atlanta’s year-end press conference Thursday. “My wife and I love it here. I just feel like it’s time where I can take that next step and comes in terms of being on the payroll in that way as well. It’s come to a point where I’ve produced a lot. I’ve played well. I should reap the benefits of that. I want to do that. If it’s here, if the club wants to make me a priority here, I would love to be here. If the club decides not to make me a priority here I would love to go somewhere where I can be a priority.”

If Atlanta vice president and sporting director Carlos Bocanegra and president Darren Eales determine they cannot reach agreements with either Gressel or González-Pírez — both — the players might be on the move during the post MLS Cup trade window. Héctor “Tito” Villalba also could be traded if he is not in de Boer’s plans for next season.

Nov. 21 also is the earliest date at which Atlanta would exercise its purchase option on midfielder Emerson Hyndman’s loan deal with Bournemouth. It is unclear when the deadline to make this decision is, but it may be Dec. 31. A team source told Pro Soccer USA Atlanta’s front office has not yet determined Hyndman’s future, but it is unlikely the Five Stripes would wait until the end of the year.

Regarding Gressel, González-Pírez and any other roster decisions that must be made by Nov. 21, the source said Atlanta plans to use as much time as possible to determine its options.  

Nov. 25, 3 p.m.: End-of-year waivers and free agency opens

What it means for Atlanta: Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz recently confirmed he is a free agent this offseason, but he wants to return to Atlanta and the two sides seem to be working toward a deal.

“I’m a free agent. I’ve had good talks with the club,” Larentowicz said Thursday.

If Larentowicz does not receive a new contract offer by Nov. 25 at 3 p.m., he can enter into negotiations with other MLS clubs, though Atlanta still would be eligible to offer him a contract. 

Nov. 26, 3 p.m.: MLS re-entry process, Stage 1

Dec. 3, 3 p.m.: MLS re-entry process, Stage 2

What it means for Atlanta: Out-of-contract players who are at least 23 years old and have played at least three MLS seasons, or at least 25 years old with at least four MLS seasons, are eligible for the re-entry process. Teams can take players in an ordered draft and must make bona fide contract offers to those who are selected. Any player who is not taken during Stage 1 will participate again in Stage 2. Again, it is unclear which, if any, Atlanta players fall into this category.

Dec. 9: 2020 Concacaf Champions League draw

What it means for Atlanta: Atlanta once again qualified for Concacaf’s regional club tournament. The Five Stripes won a place with their 2019 U.S. Open Cup triumph and will join 15 other teams in the competition: Montreal Impact (Canada), AD San Carlos (Costa Rica), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica), Alianza FC (El Salvador), Comunicaciones FC (Guatemala), CD Olimpia (Honduras), FC Motagua (Honduras), Portmore United FC (Jamaica), Club America (Mexico), Club Leon (Mexico), Cruz Azul FC (Mexico), Tigres UANL (Mexico), Los Angeles FC (USA), New York City FC (USA) and Seattle Sounders (USA).

The tournament begins in mid-February and runs through early may. With Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Four in early April, Atlanta will face a scheduling conflict for its earlier-round Champions League. The team has not announced how that conflict will be resolved.

Jan. 1-Feb. 27: Europe and China transfer windows

Jan. 1-Jan. 31 Mexico transfer window

Jan. 10-April 2: Brazil transfer window

Jan. 20-Feb. 19: Argentina transfer window

What it means for Atlanta: Exact windows vary by nation, per ESPN, but this is the time period when promising MLS players could make high-profile moves abroad. Winger-midfielder Ezequiel Barco is Atlanta’s most likely candidate to make a big-money transfer, but de Boer may want to keep the 20-year-old for one more season. Center back Miles Robinson, who recently made his U.S. men’s national team debut, could draw European interest this winter, but that is less likely.

If Atlanta is looking to transfer a player to a team in one of the big two South American leagues, this window is when it would happen. González-Pírez was linked to Boca Juniors last winter. If Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez is discontent and looking to leave after a tumultuous first season under de Boer, he could drum up interest in either Argentina or Brazil. The Five Stripes likely would have to sell Martínez at a loss after acquiring him in a blockbuster deal last January. And if Villalba is on his way out a move to Mexico or back to Argentina could be possible, depending on the price tag set by Atlanta.

Tentatively mid-February-early May: MLS primary transfer window

What it means for Atlanta: The league has not yet announced dates for the 2020 primary transfer window. Last year, it ran from Feb. 13 through May 7, and a similar timeline is expected. Either way this is when the Five Stripes will make what are intended to be their more impactful signings. Will de Boer attempt to replace Nagbe’s skill set with a player from abroad? Stay tuned.

“I’m going to discuss [roster changes] with Carlos [Bocanegra], and he knows my ideas,” de Boer said after Atlanta’s season-ending loss to Toronto FC. “Of course, there will always be spots on the roster that can be improved.”

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