Good Monday morning Caps fans, hope you all are having a lovely week — given that its all star week in MLS, I feel lucky to be writing for a best XI blog audience.
Now that the festivities are over in Washington, we can officially focus on the next round of manufactured MLS drama: Leagues Cup.
I kid — sort of. I’m not actually that cynical about the new competition and will be watching later tonight when the Caps take on Leon but I also would have been OK if dispensed with what is, at its core, a cash grab and had a more conventional regular season.
Money talks, however, and it will potentially unlock a new audience of fans for the Caps. Season ticket holders will hopefully be out in full force with free tickets and those attracted by the prominence of Leon (CCL winners and all) or are intrigued by the novelty of it all will fill in alongside them. Hopefully a few of them eventually return to BC Place.
But fans will not be seeing one of the Whitecaps’ star players moving forward, with The Athletic reporting Thursday night that Julian Gressel, who has been the Caps’ all-around best player this year, was headed to Columbus in a trade for an unspecified amount of allocation money.
This is a shock to the system — sort of. Gressel is in a walk year and the deal was apparently crafted with him and his family in mind. Given that Gressel was not consulted on his move from DC United to Vancouver, it makes sense that his family preferred a move back east and the club was willing to honor that, despite reportedly making a strong push to keep him around (How strong? We may never know).
Given that there was little news on the Gressel contract extension front, perhaps we should have seen this coming. Vanni Sartini’s tactical experimentation while Gressel was on international duty during the Gold Cup also makes a bit more sense now, as the club seemingly has found a formation that is workable and doesn’t rely on Gressel’s ball progression abilities.
But those passing qualities will be sorely missed and while Ryan Gauld has come on hot and heavy in recent matches, we shouldn’t forget that Gressel has been the team’s best player this year. Losing him will be an indisputable blow to their hopes of getting into the playoffs and doing some damage once they get there.
That being said, one imagines the Caps will be looking to use their Garberbucks windfall to do something before the secondary transfer window slams shut. There are already rumors linking them to a depth piece in defense and another fullback seems a logical signing as well, perhaps bringing prodigal son Sam Adekugbe back into the fold. This would all be a good use of those funds.
But unless the club is willing to give some of its younger players more of a look (or Russell Teibert, which will surely not go over well), I would think another creative player, possibly one from within MLS, could be added to the list as well. This doesn’t have to be a Gressel-level player, as Ali Ahmed is perfectly capable of slotting and filling that role at a very high level. But the midfield depth starts looking pretty thin, pretty quick.
If there is a silver lining to all this, it is timing. With the Leagues Cup break, the Caps have effectively a month until they play a match that has any bearing on their playoff hopes. That gives them plenty of time to bring in a couple of new pieces and possibly even bed them in so that they are ready to go when San Jose comes to town.
That doesn’t make this move any less frustrating, though it is understandable from Gressel’s standpoint. The club, in my view, was wise not to lose him for free, though I would like to see more details on the money Gressel fetched. But it still is a bit of a punch to the gut in what has generally been a pretty fun season so far.
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