October 24, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta United defender Julian Gressel (24) reacts after he scored in the first half during Eastern Conference semifinals of MLS playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday, October 24, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta United keeps 2 key players, lets go of others

Atlanta United’s roster is going to look very different next season after Thursday’s deadline to exercise one-year options on several players. 

The club retained key midfielder Julian Gressel and centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, as well as Mo Adams and Andrew Carleton. It turned down options on centerback Flo Pogba, midfielder Justin Meram, fullback Jose Hernandez and two Homegrown players who never played for the senior team, Chris Goslin and Patrick Okonkwo. Additionally, fullbacks Mikey Ambrose and Brek Shea, and midfielder Kevin Kratz are out of contract. 

The club has made offers to midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and goalkeeper Alec Kann in an attempt to retain the players.

Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said talks are progressing with Bournemouth, which holds the rights to Emerson Hyndman, and hopes to have good new soon.

Atlanta United will compete in the Champions League, starting in February 2020. Its first league game will be Feb. 29 at Nashville as it attempts to win its second MLS Cup in three seasons. 

Gressel, 25, was the No. 8 pick in the 2017 SuperDraft. He was named Rookie of the Year that season. The versatile player has made 98 appearances with 88 starts in helping the club win the MLS Cup in 2018 and Campeones Cup and U.S. Open this season. He had 15 goals and 35 assists the past three seasons.  Bocanegra said they hope to sign Gressel to a longer contract. The ongoing CBA negotiations have the team in a holding pattern, but they hope to get something done. If he and the club don’t reach an agreement on a new contract during the 2020 season, the club risks losing him for little in return.

Gonzalez Pirez, a 27-year-old who has made 95 starts the past three seasons, has more options on his contract. One of the better centerbacks in the league at carrying the ball forward from the back line through the midfield. He’s also an accurate passer.  Bocanegra described him as an important player.

October 24, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United defender Florentin Pogba works against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs on Thursday, October 24, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Pogba, 29, made 13 appearances, including eight starts, in his only season with the club. Atlanta United has three centerbacks remaining on its roster: Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Homegrown signing George Campbell, whose contract goes into effect January 2020. He had a salary of $324,000 this season. 

Meram, 30, was acquired in a trade with Columbus in May. He made 20 appearances, including 14 starts, with four goals. He scored one goal after July 7. He had a salary of $678,754 this season. 

Bocanegra said that he couldn’t be happier with how Meram played and “all that’s on the table” in trying to sign him as a free agent.

Bocanegra said decisions about Pogba and Meram were mostly because of the players’ salaries and the uncertainty of next season’s salary cap.

Kratz, 32, played one minute this season. He was limited by injuries. He made 48 appearances, including seven starts, over three seasons. He had a salary of $222,750 this season. 

Ambrose, 26, made 25 appearances, including 17 starts, the past three seasons. The fullback had a salary of $72,351.60 this season. 

Shea, 29, was signed as a free agent before the 2019 season. He made 19 appearances, including 10 starts, this season before sustaining a season-ending knee injury July 14 at Seattle. He had a salary of $225,000 this season. 

Meram and Shea are now free agents.

Goslin, 19, was Atlanta United’s second Homegrown signing. His time with Atlanta United was marked by injuries. 

Okonkwo, 20, joined Atlanta United as a Homegrown signing in January 2018.

Atlanta United’s roster for 2020 season after Thursday’s announcement: 
Mo Adams
Ezequiel Barco
George Bello
George Campbell
Andrew Carleton
Franco Escobar
Jon Gallagher
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez
Julian Gressel
Brad Guzan
Lagos Kunga
Josef Martinez
Pity Martinez
Brendan Moore
Luiz Nascimento
Dion Pereira
Eric Remedi
Miles Robinson
Hector Villalba

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