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Report: Atlanta United to send winger Erik Lopez to Banfield on loan with option to buy

The Paraguayan winger who was unable to break into the Atlanta United squad on a regular basis looks like he’ll return to South America for one season at least.

SOCCER: JUL 17 MLS - New England Revolution at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United’s transfer dealings are starting to ramp up ahead of the team’s return to training as the Five Stripes look toward a championship campaign in 2022. The latest report concerns a departure — Paraguayan forward Erik Lopez looks to be heading to Banfield on loan with a $1.6 million option to buy half of the player’s future value, according to renowned journalist Cesar Luis Merlo.

If the report is accurate and Banfield does decide to execute the purchase on Lopez, it would come at a considerable loss to Atlanta United’s coffers after they reportedly shelled out $3.7 million for his signing in 2020.

Of course, there are a few factors that play into Lopez’s drop in value. First, his former club, Olimpia, were in a prime bargaining position in 2020 when Atlanta United was in desperate need of a forward that could help patch up an attack with a massive void due to the loss of Josef Martinez. Second, Atlanta United was probably not so concerned about whittling Lopez’s price down too much as they knew he’d be a player that would fit under the league’s imminent U22 initiative — rendering the transfer fee relatively meaningless when it comes to roster-building budget rules. (Of course, the effects of the pandemic caused the implementation of the rule to be pushed back, forcing Lopez to miss competing with the first team the entirety of the 2020 season.) Third, he did not perform well enough to regularly break into the team. And lastly, with the financial impacts of covid still rippling throughout the sporting world, it’s a very difficult market in which to offload a player in Lopez’s circumstance. Still, if Lopez is able to finally get his career on an upward projection and market conditions improve, the remaining 50 percent of his future value could make up a good amount of the loss.

For Atlanta United, the ramifications are potentially quite large, as it opens up an aforementioned U22 roster spot for another bright young talent. The U22 designated slots allow teams to sign players 22 years of age or less to unlimited transfer fees so long as the player’s salary does not surpass the Maximum Budget Charge in a given year.

Naturally, the question of whether Atlanta United’s top reported transfer target, Thiago Almada, could fit into this slot given that the Velez midfielder is only 20 years of age. The answer to that question is almost certainly no, given that Almada would have to agree to a contract at the Maximum Budget Charge. Theoretically it is possible, but realistically it is not. In fact, in order for Atlanta United to have the ability to sign three U22 Initiative players, they are required to have one of their Designated Players to be a Young DP, which Almada would qualify.

Still, clearing Lopez from the roster will give him a chance to get more playing time at Banfield while allowing Atlanta an opportunity to fill the spot with a player who can compete at a level to make a difference for Gonzalo Pineda’s side.