April 27, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta United defender Julian Gressel (24) reacts after scoring a goal assisted by Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez (5) during the second half in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Atlanta United won 1-0 over the Colorado Rapids. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Carlos Bocanegra explains why Atlanta United traded Julian Gressel

Recognizing that Julian Gressel was underpaid and that the team’s fan base wasn’t going to be happy, Atlanta United still traded the midfielder to D.C. United on Tuesday.

Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said the situation with Gressel, the team’s all-time leading assist leader (35 in regular season), had it played out until the end of the season, likely would not have been good for anyone.

So, on Tuesday the team agreed to a trade with D.C. United in a deal that should work out for all parties:

  • Atlanta United will receive $650,000 in Targeted Allocation Money in 2020 and $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money in 2021. The total could reach $1.1 million with another $350,000 in Targeted Allocation Money if goals are reached.
  • Bocanegra said that money will go into a bigger plan and that the team is still shopping, which will make the supporters happy.
  • Gressel will receive a reported raise of more than $560,000 to an annual salary of at least $700,000 once he signs a four-year contract with D.C. United.

“Ultimately, trying to find a resolution, and we just were not finding a solution,” Bocanegra said. “He’s been a great player. He’s been a fan favorite. That’s not lost on us. It’s something we didn’t take lightly. In this business you have to do what’s best for the club and the player, as well.”

Bocanegra said the club could have let Gressel play during 2020 and then made him a bona fide offer, which would have given the club his rights in MLS in perpetuity. Allowing that to happen may have meant Gressel playing to avoid injury, which wouldn’t be good for the club, and then not receiving an offer to his liking, which wouldn’t be good for the player.

Bocanegra said trading Gressel was something the club began preparing for 12 months ago, which coincides with the first contract offer the club made to Gressel, and they that were prepared for a trade six months ago. Bocanegra said another offer was made to Gressel during the summer. During the winter, the two sides talked, but they couldn’t reach an agreement. Bocanegra declined to go into Atlanta United’s valuation process or why they didn’t think Gressel was worth what D.C. United is going to pay him.

Bocanegra expressed confidence that the team will be able to replace Gressel’s production, saying the club is confident in its roster and has a plan going forward. The team added Brooks Lennon, who can play right fullback or wingback, in a trade with Real Salt Lake in December 2019.

Bocanegra said, and this is something that Gressel also said exclusively to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that MLS rules and it being a salary-cap league hinder a club’s ability to give a player who is outperforming his contract a raise.

“Guys that have come in and are doing well and have earned a bigger contract aren’t getting that bigger contract because of the restrictions,” Gressel said. “Hopefully it will be addressed in new CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Hopefully the league can move to where those guys can get rewarded. I think I deserved it. I can’t be mad at that. That’s just how it is here.”

Gressel said he has no ill-will toward the front office or the club and thanked the supporters for the past three years.

“Atlanta has been great,” Gressel said. “There will never be a bad memory.”

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