MLS attracted the interest of Dutch soccer players this year because of the presence of former Ajax defender Frank de Boer as Atlanta United coach. Alexander Buttner was among those closely watching United’s progress in the playoffs, which began with a 1-0 victory over the Revolution, the team he will join next season.
“It was a good game, and maybe they didn’t have to lose,” Buttner said. “But next time we’ll see.”
When the teams next meet, Buttner is expected to be the starting left back for the Revolution, who are attempting to build an Eastern Conference challenger under sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena.
Buttner, 30, and de Boer, left-footed defenders, followed similar career paths, starting at Ajax. Buttner was 11 years old when he moved from Doetinchem to Amsterdam, a year after de Boer had departed for Barcelona.
After performing for Ajax and Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands, Buttner went to Manchester United via a 5 million euro transfer in 2012, winning the Premier League title in 2013. Then he gained a 5.5 million euro transfer to Dinamo Moscow, moved to Anderlecht in Belgium, then returned to Vitesse, winning the 2017 Dutch Cup, teaming with the Seattle Sounders MLS Cup-winning right back Kelvin Leerdam.
Buttner played for Manchester United in Alex Ferguson’s final year as coach and totaled 34 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils.
“He’s a really good coach; you can see he won everything at Man United,” Buttner said in a phone interview from the Netherlands. “He knew how to talk to players, when he needed to talk, and when he didn’t need to. My feeling when I was with [Arena] is the same.”
The Revolution have used eight starting left backs in the last two seasons, struggling to replace Chris Tierney, who retired in 2017. Former US national teamer Edgar Castillo was set to fill the role last season, but was limited to 20 appearances because of injuries.
Arena encourages an attacking strategy, sending outside backs into the offense.
“If you look at my style, I’m a forward player,” Buttner said. “I like to play forward a lot and give assists. I talked with [Arena], and he said the same; he was looking for a player like me to go forward and give crosses and help the team score. I’m happy the coach said this to me, because this is my style of play.”
Buttner could become the first Dutch starter for the Revolution since Edwin Gorter in 1998. The only other Ajax-developed player to compete for the Revolution has been forward Geoffrey Castillion , who played one game in the 2014 season.
“I played six years with one of the best youth teams in Europe, maybe in the world,” Buttner said of Ajax. “I learned a lot there. They do everything with the ball in training. When Ajax is playing, they have the ball 55-60 percent of the time, maybe more. It was good to start playing at Ajax.”
That background helped set Buttner on course to perform for Manchester United in 2013 and ’14.
“I was a young guy, and it was a dream come true,” Buttner said. “We played in Champions League qualifying against Bayern Munich. And, of course, playing in Russia was a dream. Belgium, Holland, everywhere is different, and now this will be different. I’m looking forward to it and can’t wait to start.”
If the Sounders hoped to minimize resentment over paychecks, they seem set. Their starting lineup in the 3-1 victory over Toronto in the MLS Cup final last Sunday included eight field players with salaries ranging from $528,000 (Joevin Jones) to $772,000 (Kim Kee-Hee), and two at $2 million-plus (captain Nicolas Lodeiro and leading scorer Raul Ruidiaz).
Substitutes included Victor Rodriguez ($1.08 million), named the game’s MVP, and Xavier Arreaga ($500,000). Jordy Delem ($70,875), who came on as a late defensive replacement, was the only Seattle player earning less than the league average of about $350,000, according to MLS Players Association figures.
The Sounders have reached the MLS Cup final three times in four years, winning for the second time Sunday. Leerdam, Buttner’s former teammate, helped compose the defense and scored the opening goal, snapping Seattle’s 267-minute scoreless streak in finals. (The Sounders won the 2016 title on penalty kicks after playing to a 0-0 draw with Toronto.)
Manchester City appeared to be panicking during a 3-1 loss to Liverpool, a result that could go far in setting up the Reds to win the Premier League title for the first time since 1990. Man City’s Raheem Sterling confronted defender Joe Gomez in the late going, an aggressive move that led to him being left off the England national team by coach Gareth Southgate. Coach Pep Guardiola’s frustration boiled over as he believed City had been denied two penalty kicks, and afterward he made a sarcastic show of shaking hands with referee Michael Oliver and the officiating crew. Liverpool took the lead on goals by Fabinho and Mohamed Salah in the first 13 minutes, and Manchester City struggled to recover against the Reds’ pressing tactics. Although the City offense remains potent, Guardiola has failed to reinforce the defense after losing Vincent Kompany to retirement and defender Aymeric Laporte and goalkeeper Ederson to injury. Guardiola was desperate for a solution against Liverpool, but used only one substitute, striker Gabriel Jesus in place of Sergio Aguero.