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There is no replacement for Julian Gressel

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No. More. Unicorns.

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Gressel’s contract negotiation took an unexpected turn yesterday when he was sent to ATLUTD 2 DC United in exchange for fake MLS money. It seems like this was strictly a business decision. The team assessed the value they could get for Gressel and what they’d pay him and put some numbers into a spreadsheet and when the DC United offer came it the computer screen said sell - or something like that.

Originally, I thought I’d just write a pithy and sarcastic post about the five players that could replace Julian Gressel that would have included Riyad Mahrez or someone who had 35 assists over the last three years... and thus comedy. But this went in a different direction.

Last week when Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez was traded I wrote about how the team could replace a lot but that it couldn’t replace culture. Of the players from the 2017 squad that regularly started only Jeff Larentowicz, Brad Guzan, and Josef Martinez are still around. Anton Walkes is back and that’s nice, but he figures to be more of a backup on a team that will need depth more than a core piece of the team. Probably sooner rather than later Jeff and Guzan are going to retire and Josef will be the standard bearer for the 2017 team.

Gressel and LGP leave a noticeable void in the team, one that was created because of a seeming clash of personalities and a contract negotiation that didn’t even get to be sorted out under a new CBA. The front office has done a lot right, but Julian Gressel was worth more than what his value is in exchange for MLS assets. He had the making of player that represents his team and city for a decade or more as a part of the history of the team for his entire career.

While not the most talented player, he left everything on the field every match - and he played a lot of matches even when he wasn’t exactly 100%. There were swaths of last year when he was seemingly wrapped head to toe in KT Tape and still put in stellar, energetic performances. It is difficult to find a player who can do that while still being effective and it’s something that endeared him to fans. It’s also a quality that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet, and Gressel’s stat sheet is stellar, or a paycheck as it turns out.

What’s left, other than Adam Jahn and cryptic tweets that come off as condescending, is yet to be seen. But Atlanta United has sent the player that represented the attitude and swagger of the team and the one that represented how much the team would fight for every result and moved on. Whatever direction the front office goes in from here, it will have somehow higher expectations to meet than the ones it set with the splashy moves before the inaugural season. It will also have to re-establish the thing that connects the team to the fans - the culture of the club and what it represents, or what it says it does.