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Turkish side Fenerbahce says it has agreed in principle to acquire LAFC’s Diego Rossi

Forward Diego Rossi shoots the ball during a match between LAFC and Houston Dynamo.
Forward Diego Rossi shoots the ball during a match between LAFC and Houston Dynamo on July 13, 2020, in Reunion, Florida.
(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Forward Diego Rossi, the reigning MLS scoring champion, is nearing a deal to leave LAFC for Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super Lig, the first move in what could be a dramatic overhaul for the club.

Fenerbahce said it had reached an agreement in principle to acquire Rossi on loan, pending a physical. Rossi left for Istanbul on Monday to finalize the deal and a formal announcement was expected Tuesday, Turkish time, but that did not happen.

LAFC did not respond Tuesday to calls seeking comment.

Rossi, 23, had 14 goals and four assists in 19 regular-season games last season, winning the MLS young player of the year award in addition to the Golden Boot. It was his third consecutive season with double-digits goals. But he has struggled this year, with six goals and an assist in 19 appearances, and LAFC (6-9-6) has followed suit, falling to 11th in the 13-team Western Conference.

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LAFC, which posted the best regular-season record in MLS history two years ago, is winless in its past eight games dating to mid-July and has given up more goals than it has scored on the year.

LAFC has struggled to build on a breakout season and it’s unclear whether it can get back on track under coach Bob Bradley, whose contract reportedly expires this year.

Rossi has been angling for a move to Europe since he joined LAFC from Uruguayan club Peñarol as a teen in 2018 — and that was the team’s plan when they acquired him as well. But the global pandemic put a damper on the international transfer market, driving down prices and persuading LAFC to hold on to Rossi in hopes the market would rebound.

Rossi would join Fenerbahce on loan with an option to buy for more than $7 million, according to published reports. LAFC paid $4.5 million for Rossi four years ago. And his departure now could spark a major exodus from a club that has just five players remaining from its first season.

Captain Carlos Vela, who broke the MLS single-season scoring record in 2019, is reportedly out of contract and said in a TV interview last week that he, too, would like to play in Europe next season. Vela is the league’s best-paid player with guaranteed compensation of $6.3 million this season, according to figures provided by the players’ union.

Rossi’s $1.05-million contract is LAFC’s second highest. The departure of the two designated players would give general manager John Thorrington great flexibility in remaking his roster this winter.

LAFC forward Diego Rossi reacts after scoring a goal against the Houston Dynamo.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Defender Jordan Harvey, another holdover from the 2018 expansion season, has played just two minutes this season and is unlikely to return next year, when he’ll be 38. And Bob Bradley, the third-winningest coach in MLS history and the only manager LAFC has known, could be leaving as well. His contract is also reportedly up at the end of the season.

Midfielder Eduard Atuesta and forward Brian Rodríguez, recently returned from a short-term loan to the Spanish second division, could be on the move too.

Fenerbahce, which plays in Istanbul, is one of Turkey’s most iconic clubs. It has won 19 Super Lig titles, although the last came eight seasons ago. It is unbeaten after three league games this year and will begin play in the Europa League group stage in mid-September.

The team has until Thursday to register Rossi and make him eligible for the start of the Europa League.

The son of a father of Italian descent and a mother of Armenian heritage, Rossi was born in Montevideo, Uruguay’s largest city, where he began playing soccer at the Solymar Sports Center when he was 6. He soon caught the attention of Peñarol, the country’s most successful team, which invited him to play in its academy when he was 11. By the time he made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, he already had played more than 60 games with Uruguay’s youth national teams.

Coach Gregg Berhalter will lead one of the youngest, least experienced teams in U.S. Soccer history into the final round of regional World Cup qualifying.

But he has never caught on with the senior national team and his market value has dropped in the past year. Last winter, he reportedly drew interest from Premier League teams Everton and Tottenham while another report said a transfer to Belgium’s Club Brugge was close to being done for $8 million to $10 million earlier this summer before falling apart, leaving LAFC to take a lower offer from Turkey. Assuming Fenerbahce exercises its purchase option, Rossi leaves MLS with 48 goals and 21 assists in 104 games, including a franchise-record 100 starts.

Without Rossi, who leads the team in both goals and shots (63), LAFC will once again rely on Vela, 32, who is nursing a quadriceps strain. He has started fewer than half the team’s games during the last two seasons because of injuries and personal reasons. Vela leads the team with five assists and is tied for second with five goals.

LAFC has scored just 28 times in 21 games and has scored more than twice in a game just once this season.


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