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Julian Gressel’s quest for USMNT eligibility hits potential snag

Toronto FC v Atlanta United - Eastern Conference Finals

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 30: Julian Gressel #24 of Atlanta United reacts after scoring the first goal against the Toronto FC in the first half during the Eastern Conference Finals between Atlanta United and Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 30, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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According to a report by Sam Stejskal of The Athletic, Atlanta United winger Julian Gressel has aspirations of playing for the U.S. National Team, but with two-and-a-half years to go before he’s eligible, his contract situation at the club level hangs in the balance, leaving his pathway to citizenship in serious question.

The 25-year-old German-born winger was the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS draft out of Providence, and having married an American he met in college, there is a path to naturalization in spring of 2022 and thus eligibility for the USMNT ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which is set to start in November. However, Gressel is in the final year of his contract at Atlanta United, with the club exercising his 2020 option last week.

The Athletic report claims that Gressel does not want to play on the contract option which pays him $133,000 for the season in guaranteed money, but the two sides have reportedly yet to begin negotiations on a longer deal. Gressel doesn’t know what will happen in terms of his long-term future at the club, but says he has absolutely thought about his potential future with the United States.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” Gressel told Stejskal of playing for the USMNT. “It’d be awesome, it’d be really cool to be a part of [the upcoming World Cup], but obviously that’s where it kind of all comes back together with the contract situation. You’re kind of just weighing that out and kind of seeing how it goes, because if I stay here obviously that becomes more a realistic opportunity for me, I believe. So this offseason is kind of a big thing, or until the summer maybe, who knows?”

Gressel said he feels like the United States has become “my home” and says he “loves” Atlanta United, so there’s absolutely a desire to get a deal done, but his projected 2020 salary ranks almost half the 2019 average MLS salary for non-designated players ($346,000), a paltry figure for a player who has 17 goals and 34 assists in two years with the club.

The former Providence man would absolutely be an option for the USMNT should he become eligible before the World Cup, and Stejskal reports that Gregg Berhalter has made contact with Gressel’s representatives. The USMNT is incredibly short on wide players, with Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris becoming regulars over the past year, while Tyler Boyd and Corey Baird have also been options for Berhalter of late.

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