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Argentina winger Pity Martinez officially signs with Atlanta United

Gonzalo Martinez of Argentina's River Plate celebrates with his MVP trophy after his team's defeat of Argentina's Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final soccer match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The 2018 South American Footballer of the Year landed in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport around 5:30 a.m. Monday morning, essentially confirming what had been rumored for months.

Gonzalo “Pity” Nicolás Martínez wasn’t coming to Atlanta to watch the Super Bowl, or to see the Atlanta Aquarium, or to experience the glory of one of the city’s many Waffle Houses. His landing in the Big Peach represented a business trip.

He’d join Atlanta United FC, the reigning Major League Soccer Cup champions, and use his skills on the pitch to help the club defend its crown and capture more trophies.

The club finally announced the signing of Martinez on Thursday morning. It was preceded by a tweet from club president Darren Eales, who cryptically referenced Led Zeppelin lyrics to tease the monumental addition to the Five Stripes’ roster.

Martinez, 25, will train with the club Thursday and then be formally introduced to the media Friday.

“We’re excited to announce we’ve secured Gonzalo to a long-term contract with our club,” Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement. “His abilities complement our style of play and we expect him to make a smooth transition to MLS.”

What Atlanta paid in a transfer fee for Martinez wasn’t revealed, but earlier reports suggest that it could be in the ballpark of $14 million, making it one of the most expensive in league history.

An attacking player — who plays primarily on the left wing, but can also play centrally or on the right — Martinez joins Atlanta United after a decorated career playing in his native country, Argentina.

He started his career with Club Atlético Huracán, working his way through its academy to eventually feature with the first team in 2011 at the age of 17. He appeared in 97 games with Huracan through 2015, scoring 10 goals, helping the club win Copa Argentina and pushing them to promotion to the Argentine Superliga.

Martinez joined River Plate on a transfer in 2015. Through the 2018 season, he had appeared in 167 games across all competitions and scored 33 goals. With Martinez on its roster, River captured two Copa Libertadores, two Copa Argentina trophies and a Supercopa Argentina.

The speedy winger was a key part of River’s run to the 2018 Copa Libertadores title, South America’s top international club competition. On Dec. 10, he scored the final goal in River’s win over rival Boca Juniors to secure a 5-3 aggregate victory and a spot for River in the FIFA Club World Cup.

“I’m very excited to come to Major League Soccer and to join Atlanta United,” Martínez said in a statement. “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.”

Martinez has also appeared twice with the Argentina senior national team and scored once. The goal came in his Sept. 8, 2018 debut, a 3-0 win over Guatemala.

The 5-foot-8 midfielder will join Atlanta United as a Designated Player, pending the receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa.

However, MLS clubs are only allowed to have three Designated Players. These are players that can be paid outside of a team’s salary cap. Atlanta already has its three in Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco.

The club has options. Almiron, a two-time MLS Best XI selection, has been linked to clubs in Europe and a transfer there could happen before the January window closes. The Five Stripes could also loan 19-year-old Barco, but the club taking him would have to pay all of his annual salary — which was about $1.4 million in 2018 — to free up a roster spot and a Designated Player slot for Atlanta.

Atlanta United has until March 1 to meet MLS roster compliance rules. The Five Stripes will open play in the Concacaf Champions League on Feb. 21

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