Playing different positions is nothing new.
With any MLS SuperDraft pick, it’s hard to tell how productive they’ll actually be in their professional careers regardless of how highly rated they were coming out of college. Historically speaking, the more productive MLS players are actually found a little further down in a draft than immediately within the first few picks.
Not a whole lot was known about Julian Gressel coming out of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft outside of what information could be found on his Wikipedia page. He wasn’t seen as an immediate impact player, but was considered to be one of the most MLS-ready players in terms of physical attributes. He also had a knack for playing in a variety of positions when asked to. That’s something the German is very familiar with.
“It started in Germany when I played at different academies and lower-league teams,” said Gressel during a media availability last week. “I came in as a right mid, my right back got hurt, and then I started playing there. Then, a left back got hurt and I started playing left back.”
This adaptability continued stateside when he decided to play collegiately at Providence.
“I went to Providence where they told me from the start that I would be playing right mid, but then I played center mid and striker. It just kinds of happens. Things happen during a season, guys get hurt, and coaches start to have different ideas.”
With the eighth pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Atlanta United selected Gressel. It was a bit of a heaven-sent when one considers that a month before the draft, Atlanta didn’t even own the pick since its rights still belonged to Orlando City. However, Darren Eales and company were able to make a deal with the Lions the day of the 2016 MLS Expansion Draft, where they obtained the eighth overall pick in exchange for the first pick of the expansion draft in Donny Toia. It’s safe to say the Atlanta front office is happy with the deal they made.
Since joining the team before their inaugural season, Gressel has appeared in all but three matches for the Five Stripes. His versatility has earned him playing time as a central midfielder, attacking midfielder, right winger, right wingback, and an occasional appearance at the right back role during matches. Gressel’s ability to be a jack of all trades over the course of nearly two seasons has earned the respect of Tata Martino, who has rewarded him with a current club record of 55 appearances.
“It wasn’t really my decision to say ‘Oh yeah, I can be a center mid and a right wing’,” Gressel said. “Coaches on almost every level have always approached me and asked ‘Do you think we can try you out there?’. I’ve always just been open-minded to it and try not to have the thought in my head that I can only play here or there.”
Gressel’s open-mindedness and adaptability continues to pay dividends while Darlington Nagbe is out with an injury. Look for the most capped player in Atlanta United’s history to continue and contribute wherever he’s needed…well, except maybe goalkeeper.
“Yeah, that probably won’t happen.”