Atlanta United hoping Lopez can play in MLS in 2020 season

01/13/2019 -- Marietta, Georgia -- Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer watches the team as they practice at their training facility at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Monday, January 13, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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01/13/2019 -- Marietta, Georgia -- Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer watches the team as they practice at their training facility at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Monday, January 13, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta United hopes that MLS will allow Erik Lopez to join the senior team on loan from Atlanta United 2, manager Frank de Boer said on Sunday.

The team announced the signing of Lopez, 18, from Paraguay’s Olimpio on Saturday.

“We see a lot of potential in Erik Lopez,” de Boer said. “He’s eager to come. We can use a striker with similar qualities that Josef (Martinez) has.”

MLS hasn’t announced its season beyond the ongoing tournament in Orlando. Atlanta United will play Columbus on Tuesday and must win to have a chance of advancing to the knockout rounds.

In announcing the signing, Atlanta United said that Lopez wouldn’t join the senior team until the 2021 season. De Boer tried to explain that by saying they want him to come and become accustomed to the team and living in Atlanta. But de Boer said he hopes that Lopez can come up from the USL affiliate on loan, which is what the team did with centerback Laurence Wyke for a few games last season.

Last Tuesday, de Boer was asked about Lopez and said he didn’t know anything about him, recommending that Vice President Carlos Bocanegra be asked. That was the second time that de Boer said he didn’t know the player. On Sunday, de Boer said that Bocanegra told him previously that the team was keeping an eye on Lopez.

“Carlos and I are always involved if he thinks this is a player suitable for us,” de Boer said.

De Boer said it’s good that Atlanta United is always searching for young players that can be developed and possibly sold to bigger clubs in Europe. He noted Miguel Almiron as an example. Atlanta United bought him from Lanus and sold him after two seasons to Newcastle in England’s Premier League.

An impediment to loaning Lopez from Atlanta United 2 to Atlanta United is the senior team is out of International slots on its roster. That can be remedied by the team acquiring another or by loaning one of the players currently occupying one of those slots to Atlanta United 2.

Clubs are allowed to sign players from USL affiliates to four-day contracts a maximum of four times per season, but those players can’t be used in league games. Atlanta United could try to claim extreme hardship but the club is nowhere close to reaching the conditions for that.

There are other ways that Lopez could be moved from Atlanta United 2 to Atlanta United, including putting Martinez, who is out for the season because of a knee injury sustained in the season-opening win at Nashville, to the season-ending injury list. That doesn’t solve the lack of an international slot, though. Lopez would also have to an annual salary of less than $250,000.

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