It wasn't an easy decision.
Following a year of failed contract negotiations, with rumblings both private and public over the last few months that Gressel's future may lay elsewhere, it was made a reality on Tuesday when D.C. United sent Atlanta United $750,000 in allocation money — which could rise to $1.1 million — for the German's services.
“There were a couple things that went into it," Atlanta VP Carlos Bocanegra told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. "Our internal scouting, big picture plan and immediate needs but ultimately, we were trying to find a resolution. We were just not finding a solution (on a contract extension). He’s been a great kid, a great player and is a fan favorite — that’s not lost on us. It’s a really difficult decision, we understand that the fan base is going to be asking a lot of questions about this and it’s something we didn’t take lightly. In this business, you’ve got to think what’s best for the club.”
Bocanegra noted that the club initially sent a contract offer last January, followed by another over the summer and more talks this winter. It became clear no middle ground would be found.
“We knew we were going to get absolutely hammered by the fan base, let’s be honest," Bocanegra added.
The club were also careful to do right by the player. Gressel was not only a fan favorite, but a well-liked character around the locker room and training ground.
“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we'd still own his MLS rights)," Bocanegra said. "We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.
"Julian was a good guy in the locker room," he added later. "Coaches liked him, players liked him, fans liked him, we liked him. These are things that go on in professional sports, one of the hardest parts about this whole thing is having to take emotion out of the decision. Ultimately, it comes down to trying to do the best thing for the club and get a good resolution for Julian.”
The club prepared for his departure, having acquired versatile fullback/wingback/winger Brooks Lennon earlier this offseason. Lennon started his career as a winger before moving to right back over the past couple of years. Despite that, Lennon did feature off the bench as a winger for Real Salt Lake towards the end of last season and has done so for the US Under-23 national team.
“We feel like we’re getting good value, but we also don’t want to be a team that only tries to get value and not keep players," Bocanegra said. "It’s a fine balance. ... We knew this was a potential possibility about 12 months ago. Six months ago when we’re having these difficult scenarios, we talked about what we might look like if it goes down a few different routes. So we were prepared for this.”