All three Designated Players accounted for the four goals Atlanta United tallied against the Seattle Sounders in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over a second-string lineup. However, coming away from the friendly it was an MLS SuperDraft pick getting all the glowing reviews.
Through the first three preseason matches, it’s hard to find any player on the Atlanta United roster who has improved their stock more than Julian Gressel. The No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, Gressel has impressed in all three of his appearances. Getting the chance to start alongside what was nearly a full-strength Atlanta lineup, he had his best showing against the Sounders. The mixture of physicality and technical ability he possesses is extraordinary and makes you wonder why prognosticators had him so low in their mock drafts.
United manager Tata Martino praised the German-born midfielder after the match for his excellent performance in a starting role.
“[He had a] very good game,” Martino told reporters at the match. “I think he’s a player that can give us good minutes. He’s very dynamic, very aggressive, he arrives in scoring positions. We’re happy with the job that he’s doing.”
The only thing holding Gressel back from waltzing into Martino’s starting lineup on a consistent basis is the wealth of depth the manager has to choose from in the midfield positions. Both Chris McCann and Carlos Carmona were unavailable for this match. While both could be considered ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s inspiring to know that he can step in when needed and keep the quality of play at a high level.
Gressel is undoubtedly pleased with the chance to start in preseason and show his ability, but he says he doesn’t want to stop there. The 23-year-old ambitiously has his sights set on a permanent place in the team’s best XI.
“I’m a competitive guy and I want to play the best that I can and help out the team, and if that’s maybe pushing other guys to become better players and that’s my role, I just want to be the best guy out there,” Gressel said.
While the path to the first-choice starting lineup is a crowded one, if he keeps performing at a high level on a consistent basis, he could see himself flying past his competition sooner rather than later.