Julian Gressel has been a key piece of the Atlanta United lineup all season. He started the first match in team history and since then has chipped in 4 goals and 9 assists, just one shy of the rookie record. What’s more, the 23 year-old has done it playing a variety of roles for the Five Stripes. Gressel has appeared as a deep and attacking central midfielder as well as a right winger.
All of this has led to talk that the German midfielder is a front runner for MLS Rookie of the Year. There’s no doubt that with his stats and performance on the field Gressel is worthy of the award. However, as the United lineup shifted, Jeff Larentowicz took on a larger role in central midfield and Josef Martinez pushed Tito Villalba back out to the wing when he came back from injury. With these changes Gressel faced the prospect of dwindling minutes and seemed to settle into a supersub role as the team began play at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Yet again, another injury has him playing significant minutes and being a valuable asset for Atlanta United. When Miguel Almiron went down after less than 30 minutes against the Montreal Impact, Gressel stepped up. Montreal never had a chance to find their footing in the game and the Five Stripes maintained possession with Julian in as well as they usually did with Almiron running the attack. This isn’t to say that the team doesn’t play differently with Julian Gressel in the lineup as opposed to Almiron. The Paraguayan is Atlanta’s best player and without him the attack isn’t as fast or fluid but the 2-0 result against Montreal and 3-0 win versus Philadelphia speak for themselves.
Still, with Almiron out Gressel can put together nearly a full season’s worth of performances to show that he is the best rookie of the 2017 class. Abu Danladi of Minnesota United has been coming on strong lately and has helped the Loons get improved results in the second half of the season. But with Miguel Almiron leaving some huge shoes for his replacement to fill and Gressel so far ably filling them, the Rookie of the Year award should be in Gressel’s hands at the end of the year.