The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year has started the season hot with a goal and three assists in the teams first five matches. Julian Gressel, a midfielder by trade, has been a crucial component in Tata Martino’s 3-5-2 formation that has propelled Atlanta United to four straight wins since losing 4-0 to Houston Dynamo on opening day. The thing is, Gressel isn’t doing this in his natural position, he’s doing it at right wing-back.
As stated earlier, Gressel has been on an absolute tear so far, earning MLS Team of the Week for the second time in five games. He has had multiple key passes including the one to Miguel Almiron who banged it in from the top of the box against D.C. United and the inch-perfect cross against LAFC to give Josef Martinez the MLS record for most goals (24) for a player in their first 25 MLS games.
From the cross to the finish— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 9, 2018
One goal of many from last night! pic.twitter.com/ahnF3CyOxI
He was also able to bag his first goal of the season, also against LAFC, after being left wide open on the right side, partly due to Martinez’s nearpost run.
This wasn’t always the story though, before the season started Gressel wasn’t finding much success in the preseason. To be frank, Gressel looked destined for the bench to begin the season with occasional spot starts. It looked even moreso after the first match of the season when Gressel filled in for the injured Ezequiel Barco, but played as an attacking midfielder instead.
It wasn’t until Tata decided to employ a 3-5-2 formation, which he hadn’t used with Atlanta much outside of the preseason and some glimpses last season, that we saw Gressel blossom into the key player he is now.
“We have younger guys that have been developing and training with us for a year,” said Tata after the game on Saturday against LAFC, when talking about the player growth on the team. “Julian (Gressel) has transformed into a first-team player”.
What Tata says holds a lot of truth and brings up an interesting conundrum for him and the lineup once Barco returns from injury and is fit to start. Gressel has made it really difficult to justify taking him out of the lineup because of his great work both offensively and defensively on the right side.
So, what exactly happens when the team, and specifically Barco, get healthy is anyone’s guess. Tata has some tough decisions ahead of him. Maybe we can help him out. Head down to the comments and give your thoughts on the matter.