Atlanta United traded standout player Julian Gressel to DC United for up to $1.1 million in consideration. He will immediately add depth to a D.C. United squad that is low on attacking players.
To DC United
Julian Gressel, F
To Atlanta United
$650,000 in TAM now
$100,000 in TAM in 2021
up to $350,000 in additional funds
For DC, the trade comes a week after the club shelled out $5 million to Mexican club Monarcas de Morelia for Peruvian World Cup midfielder Edison Flores.
Gressel, 26, had been embroiled in a contract dispute entering the final year of his contract with Atlanta. His base salary was $150,000 — considered remarkably low for such a key player in Atlanta’s high-powered attack.
United is prepared to pay him up to $700,000 annually, two people close to the situation said. The sides are expected to engage in serious talks soon, but those two people said Gressel and United are “in the same ballpark” in terms of compensation. DC United used MLS-provided funds known as Targeted Allocation Money (“TAM”) to acquire the German-born midfielder who recorded 15 goals and 35 assists in his first three pro seasons. TAM comes from a league fund, and not from team coffers, and is used to add or retain higher-end players whose salary is above the maximum salary budget charge per MLS roster rules.
Amid contract uncertainty, Gressel had reported to Atlanta training camp last week.
In exchange for Gressel, Atlanta received $650,000 in targeted allocation money this year, $100,000 in TAM next year and up to $350,000 in additional funds, should Gressel meet performance thresholds. Both teams expect him to reach them, one person familiar with the deal said.
United’s investors largely spent their own money on the transfer fee for Flores. Much of his $2.1 million salary will also come out of the owner/investors’ pockets.
United’s addition of Flores, Gressel and Yamil Asad, an Argentine in his second D.C. tour, will help offset the offseason departures of Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Lucas Rodríguez, who combined for 24 of the team’s 43 goals last year, including the postseason. Rooney returned to England to play for second-tier Derby County, Acosta signed with Mexico’s Atlas, and Rodríguez rejoined Estudiantes in his native Argentina after his one-year loan with United expired.
The three newcomers join a DC attack that features winger Paul Arriola and striker Ola Kamara, Rooney’s replacement in waiting late last season. Arriola and Gressel are both right wings, but their versatility allows Coach Ben Olsen to use different formations and combinations. Gressel is also able to play centrally and as a wing back. Flores is expected to fill Acosta’s play-making role.
“It’s going to be part of the preseason, figuring out who goes where and collectively where we are most effective,” said Olsen.
The 2020 season opener is Feb. 29 against Colorado at Audi Field.
United has been interested in Julian Gressel since he starred at Providence College and, in particular, tore apart Maryland in College Park in the 2016 NCAA tournament. D.C. had hoped to draft him, but with a first-round selection four places ahead, Paul McDonough, Atlanta’s sporting director at the time, claimed him.
Gressel started 24 matches in his debut season with the expansion team, posting five goals and nine assists and winning MLS rookie of the year honours. He has been a starter the past two seasons, tallying a combined 10 goals and 26 assists to help Atlanta win MLS Cup in 2018 and advance to the Eastern Conference final this past fall. Gressel was tied for seventh in assists each of the past two seasons.
“He is a player with high energy, a great attacking piece who has a tasty final ball and can score goals,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “He’s at a great age — prime of his career.”
For much of their history, the District has had an image of a low-budget organisation. This appears to be changing with the moves for Flores and Gressel.
Part of the reason may be revenue generated at Audi Field, which opened in July 2018, but DC needs to spend on players. Player spending in MLS has risen substantially in recent years, and teams that aren’t willing to pay for talent are going to be left behind. This of course relates to the current CBA Negotiations.
“I think it’s a real healthy thing,” Olsen said. “The owners have been very supportive of what we want to do and the players we want to bring in.”
Kasper agreed. “Our ambitions as a club continue to grow,” he said. “Coming off two good years of making the playoffs, we want to continue to build a roster that is talented and can compete for trophies.”