Julian Gressel, usually the enthusiastic team player, wasn’t looking so joyous last time we heard from him — and it wasn’t only because Atlanta United’s season had recently come to a screeching halt. Instead, he was clearly voicing frustrations that had been building for months regarding a new contract that the German has undoubtedly earned through his performances in MLS.
The only question is whether Atlanta would be the team to give him that contract.
“It’s come to a point where I’ve produced a lot,” he told reporters the week following Atlanta’s loss to Toronto. “I’ve played well. I should reap the benefits of that. I want to do that. If it’s here, if the club wants to make me a priority here, I would love to be here. If the club decides not to make me a priority here, I would love to go somewhere where I can be a priority.”
Thursday, Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra set the record straight: “He’s been a vital part of our success,” said Bocanegra. “He’s a priority for us.”
But as for the contract, Gressel will still have to wait. Bocanegra explained that teams around the league are still in the dark when it comes to forecasting what the roster-building rules and salary cap numbers will look like in 2020, therefore making it difficult to negotiate a deal. Typically, teams will negotiate figures based on how much of the team’s overall budget should be allocated to said player. As things stand now, there is no such reference point.
The result is teams proceeding with extreme caution — again, not just Atlanta but around the league. Bocanegra explained.
“It’s been really difficult, and I think we’re not the only ones in that situation around the league. It’s been extremely tough to predict the future and what might be the outcome. I don’t know what’s going on with the CBA. The only information I have is what we read in the paper, same as you guys. I spoke at the beginning [of the call] about some of the decisions we had to make on guys. We’re just not sure what the world is going to look like. So the big thing for me when we started doing this from day one was we don’t want to handcuff ourselves in a situation that we can’t get out of or it’s not the right way to go. This offseason, even more so. There’s so much unknown, it’s so hard for us to make decisions on guys who — in a different world — where we know the salary cap and we know the rules and regulations... those decisions can be made with more certainty and earlier because we know the world we’re living in January and February.”
This is the reason why we’ve seen some quality players around MLS — and in Atlanta’s case players like Mikey Ambrose, Justin Meram and Florentin Pogba — let go. It’s not necessarily that teams don’t value these players, they just don’t know how specifically valuable they are. Until they know that, they aren’t going to sign them to multi-year deals.
So for a player like Gressel, there is an order of operations to how clubs will proceed with contractual issues like his. While Bocanegra should be taken at his word that Gressel is a priority and they will get him a new contract, the player will simply have to wait until his ticket is called. But Bocanegra did say that he has been in touch with Gressel’s agent to explain the situation.
“It’s a very strange situation right now,” said Bocanegra. “I hope it’s something we don’t have to go through again, because it makes life really difficult. In the end, it gets passed on to the players, which is unfortunate.”