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Final Exams: Julian Gressel

The rookie can play

MLS: New York City FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Gressel

Position: Midfielder

Games Played: 32

Goals: 5

Assists: 9

Before inspiring a cult following, Julian Gressel arrived in Atlanta under the radar and outside of the spotlight via Providence College. But after starting and performing well in Atlanta United’s first-ever match against the New York Red Bulls, the German-born midfielder and current front-runner for MLS Rookie of the Year, quickly established himself alongside the Club’s more heralded stars.

What went right this season: Gressel adapted immediately to MLS and became an instant contributor in the team’s attack. He was creative on the ball and was never afraid to take chances in front of goal. He also showed early signs of maturity by accepting his role on the team during his brief spell as Tata Martino’s first sub out.

What does he need to improve on: Better ball distribution. Accuracy and quick one to two-touch soccer are staples of Martino’s high-tempo attack. Gressel struggled in this department early in the year and was often caught in possession in the middle of the park, putting the team under unnecessary pressure. Even though he’ll walk away with a trophy this season, Gressel should focus on becoming a more consistent performer.

What role will he play in 2018: Gressel’s versatility was valuable throughout the year. But his role next season could hinge on potential off-season additions or tactical experimentation. Fans have been clamoring to see Gresselmania at RB. However, news of a deal for Argentine defender Franco Escobar from Newell’s Old Boys, pretty much negates that.

But injuries do happen, so if Gressel finds himself at RB/LB, he should look at what Ashley Young has become under Jose Mourinho. The converted winger, and once-forgotten Manchester United veteran, is thriving again as an attacking fullback.

Grade: B+