He was here for a short time, but it was a good time. 

For those of you who have slept through the past couple of days, the Vancouver Whitecaps traded Julian Gressel to the Columbus Crew.

The Whitecaps received a stack of General Allocation Money (GAM) staggered over the next couple of years. They will get $275,000 in 2023 and $275,000 in 2024. An additional $300,000 could also be a part of the deal; however, that is conditional pending Gressel signing a new contract with the Crew. That GAM would be paid out between 2024 and 2026.

The move also frees up $125,000 in Targeted Allocations Money (TAM) and opens $651,250 in salary cap space.

Gressel had 38 appearances with the Whitecaps, tallying seven goals and nine assists during his time.

Axel Schuster, Whitecaps sporting director, was quick to thank Gressel for his time with the Whitecaps.

“Julian has helped us a lot over the last year,” Schuster said. “I think if you look at the club and look at the team, I think our performance at the time before Julian arrived and if you look at where we are today, Julian had a really big, positive impact. And it wasn’t only him as a player. It was also him as a character and a leader in the locker room and the pitch.”

Schuster also credited Gressel’s positive impact on his teammates, stating the player helped to bring out the best in those around him.

“I think other players that are playing in the central midfield today wouldn’t be there if Julian would not have been next to him. And especially about Ali Ahmed and Pedro Vite who both have grown a lot over the last months.”

“Not about money”

When the Whitecaps traded for Gressel from D.C. United, they were not allowed to talk to the player until the deal was done. He was forced to uproot his young family not only across the entire continent but to a new country as well.

The Whitecaps knew bringing Gressel to Vancouver was a risk because he only had a year and a half left on his contract, and there was no guarantee he would sign an extension. 

But at the time, the club also knew they had a specific need, and he fit the bill.

However, this time, Gressel took a more active role in the process. And Schuster credited Gressel for being upfront about his intentions.

“He does not hide behind his agent. It wasn’t his agent delivering the message. It was Julian asking to speak with Vanni [Sartini] and me. And he said, ‘Look, this is a decision not about money. I have here to make a family decision, and it is not about the offer.’”

Schuster said the offer on the table from the Whitecaps would have made Gressel the third-highest-paid player at the club.

Under MLS free agency rules, Gressel will be eligible to receive up to 15 per cent more than his current salary. The Whitecaps’ offer was significantly higher than this.

“We had three clubs interested from the east,” Schuster said. “And I had final discussions with Tim Bezbatchenko [Columbus Crew president] in Washington, and they just have made this as their best offer. We had a short back-and-forth. We have asked for a little bit more than their first offer, and they have come really very close to our second ask. “

Schuster said the GAM received, in conjunction with the released TAM and salary cap space gives them the most flexibility to do what they want to do over the next six months.

“Decided not to replace Julian with Julian”

Given the rise of Vite and Ahmed as no. 8 options, Schuster said there are other areas of the pitch that are priorities, and they are looking at bringing in not one but two players in this current transfer window.

“If we can get everything done that we are preparing right now, we will not do only one move,” he said. “We have decided not to replace Julian with Julian. So, I don’t think that would make sense. We want to take the opportunity of the amount of allocation money and of freed-up cap to ideally at least, bring in two players that we would see as potential starters.”

Schuster said he is looking for tactical flexibility, and he wants to give head coach Vanni Sartini options to play in different systems.

In particular, he said they are looking at the wings.

“We speak about fullback options and wingback options,” Schuster said. “I think what we have learned over the last weeks is that Luís [Martins] also plays a very, very good role as a left-sided centre-back. But then we run very quickly out of options with left-footed players that can play wide. But also, neither [Mathías] Laborda nor Javain [Brown] are real right wingback options. So, saying that, that’s obviously an area that we are looking at. That’s the first focus.”