Julian Gressel could not have been happy when he heard the terms of Emerson Hyndman’s contract extension with Atlanta United.
Hyndman signed a permanent deal with the Five Stripes that raises his salary “several hundred thousand dollars,” according to The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal. This comes after Atlanta acquired and then signed Brooks Lennon, and gave Jeff Lawrentowicz a new contract.
Gressel wants a new deal, and he has not been shy about voicing his desires. “It’s frustrating and it’s disappointing,” he told The Athletic last month. “That’s probably the main word: disappointed.” He went on to talk about how he’s given everything for this club, and how a move from his current contract ($130,000) to a new one (likely over MLS’s maximum budget charge of $530,000) would be “life-changing” for him and his family. Atlanta has money — they received upwards of $1 million from Columbus for Darlington Nagbe — but they’ve balked on giving Gressel any of it.
It seems likely that the German will get paid by someone this winter. He is out of contract after 2020, and Atlanta will want to make sure that he does not leave for free. Stejskal has reported that Atlanta is now considering moving Gressel, possibly within MLS. There are multiple teams reported to be interested.
Intra-MLS trade possible for Gressel?
Any intra-MLS trade would be fascinating to see. Gressel’s value, in theory, should be in the millions. He is a versatile player who can be an above-average contributor at right back, wingback, central midfield, and winger. He’s the perfect complement to star players. His crossing is exquisite, and an easy form of offense. In terms of passing and touch, he could hold his own at a high level. He was basically the inspiration for my “MLS players who could play in the Premier League” article.
Coming up with potential destinations is hard, though. A team receiving Gressel in a trade would have to pay a bucket of money to Atlanta and then invest long-term in a contract. I’d suggest that a team tries to trade a player along with cash to Atlanta to offset the cost, but player-for-player deals aren’t hugely common in MLS anymore, particularly high-leverage ones.
Inter Miami, flush with expansion cash, should be calling Atlanta. Gressel would be a similar piece for them as he was for ATL in his Rookie of the Year campaign from 2017. Sporting KC recently acquired Alan Pulido to play as their No. 9, and a front three of Gressel, Pulido, and Johnny Russell would be really interesting. Gerso Fernandes would be relegated to a super-sub role in that scenario, which might actually be ideal for Gerso.
The LA Galaxy could use a player to accompany Cristian Pavon and a possible other star attacker (TBD). They could play Gressel at right back, over Rolf Feltscher, or even use him in central midfield alongside Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget.
Any team who wants to play a three-at-the-back should be inquiring about Gressel. The Chicago Fire and Toronto FC are two that come to mind immediately, though it’s difficult to predict how exactly teams will approach their tactics. The New York Red Bulls, who are going through a bit of a transition period at the moment, could acquire Gressel as a safety valve and as a piece to build around.
Gressel staying in MLS good for USMNT too
USMNT fans should hope Gressel stays in MLS — or, more specifically, in the United States. He has a much more realistic chance of eventually qualifying for the US national team prior to the 2022 World Cup if he lives in the US instead of Europe, due to visa issues. He has expressed a desire to play for America.
Losing Gressel would be difficult for Atlanta, but Lennon is basically a carbon-copy of Gressel in terms of style, though not in terms of ability. ATL seem to have decided that they can afford to let Gressel go. We’ll see how the situation proceeds over the next couple of months.