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Rival teams say Inter Miami must shed players for roster compliance; more MLS preseason notes

Wandering around Coachella Valley, California last weekend, a picturesque backdrop of lush mountains, MLS preseason was in the air. Spread throughout the area were double-digit MLS teams continuing their preparations for the upcoming season.

In total, the weekend had six friendly games featuring MLS teams. The Athletic was around to check it out and speak with key stakeholders at the clubs.

Miami must shed players

Inter Miami needs to come up with more allocation money and/or shed salary in order to be roster compliant in time for the season, sources around the league who were briefed on the situation tell The Athletic. The situation is described as dire from the outside.

Sources say the likes of Gregore, Jean Mota, DeAndre Yedlin, Robert Taylor and Sergii Kryvstov are available, and that the club needs to make the outgoing moves in order to comply with MLS’s roster regulations. Additionally, those sources expect the club to move on from Coco Jean, through either a transfer, trade or contract termination.

Essentially, Miami is at the point where they need to consider an outbound move for any player on a significant salary ahead of the Feb. 20 roster compliance deadline, the day before the club’s opening game against Real Salt Lake.

“They are screwed,” said a high-ranking sporting executive at another club. “Trust me.”

An Inter Miami spokesperson declined to comment when reached by The Athletic.


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MLS has not announced specific roster rules and regulations for 2024 yet, but in 2023, the salary budget was a base of $5.21 million for the senior roster. It’s “base” because designated players hit the cap at the senior max budget charge (last year was $651,000) no matter what they get paid, or less for young DPs. That budget is set to rise by a fixed amount laid out in the league’s CBA with its players.

Allocation money — GAM and TAM — is given to every team every year to “buy down” contracts, like an extension of the salary cap. This is integral to having players who make over the max budget charge. In 2023, Miami had 10 players over the max budget charge. Three were DPs — Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gregore. Two have left (Josef Martinez and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez). Salary budget charges include transfer fees paid, so others may need to be bought down as well.

An exact number of how much allocation money Miami (or any other club) needs is not public, and the public also doesn’t know exactly how much allocation money they had left over from previous years (or borrowed ahead from the future).

It’s a long-winded way to say: All MLS clubs know Miami’s situation and thus aren’t exactly bidding heavily against each other for these players, despite their proven MLS quality.

If Miami transfers one or two abroad — Gregore or Mota make the most sense because the Brazilian window is still open and those players are valuable — they can convert the fee to allocation money.



Inter Miami finalizing Redondo signing

Miami signed legendary striker Luis Suarez, added Julian Gressel in free agency, brought in center back Nicolas Freire on loan from Pumas and is finalizing a deal to sign highly-rated Argentine youth international midfielder Federico Redondo from Argentinos Juniors for a reported fee of $8 million.

The club already traded Kamal Miller to Portland and Chris McVey to D.C. United this offseason in their attempts to generate allocation money. They also transferred Nicolás Stefanelli abroad and let a number of other players depart, like striker Josef Martinez.



Hong Kong uproar, Messi injured and just one win: Inside Inter Miami’s Asian tour

Fosu spent part of 2023 on loan at Rotherham United (Matt McNulty/Getty Images)

Junior Urso, Tariqe Fosu on trial at Charlotte

Charlotte FC has had a busy winter for outgoing players, but now they’re working on making additions.

Former Orlando City standout Junior Urso and former Brentford winger Tariqe Fosu are on trial with the club, both starting in their 1-0 win against San Jose. Both looked solid, particularly Urso.

Urso, 34, is known in MLS for his time with Orlando City, where he made 112 appearances. The versatile midfielder returned to Orlando last summer for a brief stint and is currently out of contract.

Fosu, 28, has been a free agent since the summer, when his contract with Brentford expired. He spent 2022-23 on loan with Stoke City, then Rotherham, making a combined 39 appearances in the Championship.

Additionally, Charlotte has signed midfielder Djibril Diani from Ligue 2 club SM Caen. Diani, 26, can play defensive midfield or center back. He had been with Caen the last two years, making 50 appearances for the French second-division club.

Charlotte remains in the market for a DP attacking midfielder in the short term, as well as another U-22 initiative signing. The club is likely to keep a DP spot open for the summer, as well.

Pellegrino comes to MLS with a solid scoring record in Norway (Ahmad Mora/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

San Jose expects new DP and big things from Amahl Pellegrino

After a busy few weeks of signings, the San Jose Earthquakes aren’t done. The club is in the market to sign another designated player to pair with current DPs Cristian Espinoza and Carlos Gruezo.

“We’re looking to add a DP, either an attacking midfielder or a second forward,” head coach Luchi Gonzalez told The Athletic. “One of those two types of profiles, we’ll see what the best fit is for us. But definitely a central, attack-minded player.”

It’s really the last piece of San Jose’s offseason. The club transferred homegrown winger Cade Cowell to Chivas for a club-record fee of $4 million and has since made a few key signings official: Center back Bruno Wilson, left back Vitor Costa and winger Amahl Pellegrino.

Pellegrino, 33, joins the club after putting up video game-esque numbers in Norway with Bodo/Glimt. Last season he had 24 goals and 14 assists in 29 league appearances. All together, Pellegrino had 76 goals and 41 assists with Bodo in 120 appearances.

“I think the Scandinavian leagues are good comps to MLS,” Gonzalez said. “Players who do well there tend to do well here. You never know, but our research and analysis leads us to believe it’ll translate. Will it be 20 goals and 20 assists? Look, I don’t know, I just know that he will score and assist and help us.”

Pellegrino will play as a left winger for San Jose, though he can also play centrally. Gonzalez and the club see him as a goal scoring winger who will cut in on his preferred right foot, leaving plenty of space for an overlapping left back to create overloads down that flank.

“I know what I’m capable of… I know what I can bring to the team,” Pellegrino said. “I want to continue as I left (in Norway). I really love to score goals, it’s a big passion for me, it’s something I’m trying to do every day. We have one career, I don’t want to throw days away. I want to win more games with my new team and make myself a name in MLS.”

Pellegrino says he’s been watching Inter Miami games since Lionel Messi joined — “a lot of late nights,” he says.



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Urgency increasing to get big deals done

San Jose isn’t the only club looking to finalize a deal for one last DP as opening day nears. Both the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers are pushing hard, as well.

The LA Galaxy is nearing a deal to sign Ghanian winger Joseph Paintsil from Genk, as reported by The Athletic on Tuesday. The club has been working on the deal for a month and is on the verge of sealing it.

“It’s been a long process,” GM Will Kuntz said about the push for another DP in general. “It started at the same time as our search that ended with Gabriel Pec. In all of these different negotiations… you have some targets that come and go. There are different permutations, but the consistent through line has been looking for players who fit the profile we’re looking for.”

The Galaxy officially signed Gabriel Pec to a club-record deal at the end of January, but had agreed to terms a few weeks prior. They had bids rejected in December for Paraguay international Ramon Sosa while working on a potential deal for Paintsil.

After a hugely disappointing 2023, pressure is on the Galaxy to excel in 2024 with their new attacking core of Pec and soon Paintsil around star Riqui Puig.

Another team aiming for good transfer news soon is the Portland Timbers. The club named Phil Neville head coach this winter and has reinforced the defensive spine with deals to acquire the aforementioned Kamal Miller and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. The attack, already built around club-record signing Evander and Santi Moreno, will get a jolt with a big DP deal this winter.

The club is at the final stages of its search and hopes to push a deal over the line soon.

“You live and die by your DPs,” Neville said. “They make or break you, we have to get this right. The bar has been lifted in terms of price tag, salary and level of player who wants to come to MLS. There’s a slightly bigger pool now that we’re looking at than in the past.”

Portland is likely going to add a player whose primary position is center forward with that DP spot. The search and talks have been ongoing all offseason.

“Ownership has been incredible,” Neville said. “In the talks we had when I was becoming the manager, Merritt (Paulson) was really front foot: We want to go for it. This club is used to winning, now is the time for a big push. The next signing we make, I think Portland Timbers fans will be happy.”

Red Bulls finalizing deal for Norwegian youth international

The New York Red Bulls are finalizing a deal to sign Norwegian youth international winger Dennis Gjengaar from Odd, sources briefed on the deal tell The Athletic.

Gjengaar will hit RBNY’s roster via the U-22 initiative. Norwegian outlet TA first reported the deal.

The winger, who turns 20 this month, has seven goals and two assists in 39 league appearances (2,663 minutes) with the first team.

A clear standout this preseason is New York Red Bulls star midfielder Emil Forsberg. In his side’s 2-2 draw against St. Louis, Forsberg was clearly the class of the pitch and was dangerous any time he got on the ball.

Sources across the league who have seen Forsberg in action this preseason have raved about his performances and fit. The goal for RBNY is that Forsberg elevates the attack, which has lagged behind a stout defense the last few years.

Forsberg connected well with last year’s marquee signing Dante Vanzeir, who had a disappointing debut season in MLS with injury and controversy, being suspended six matches for the use of racially insensitive language.

Kellyn Acosta joins up with new teammates

Midfielder Kellyn Acosta joined up with the Chicago Fire camp this weekend in California after agreeing on a deal to join the club. The signing was made official on Tuesday evening.

The Fire teased the signing a week ago and then Acosta traveled to do his medical and finalize the deal, but there was a slight delay as contract language was being reviewed. Along the way, Acosta was with his soon-to-be new teammates as the 28-year-old watched on from the bench as the Fire played LAFC on Sunday.

Club-record signing Hugo Cuypers will join the club over the next week or so, depending on the visa process. The goal is for Cuypers to have a week of training before the club’s season opener on February 24, but they’re at the mercy of the visa process.

(Photos: Getty Images)

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