Manuel Veth –
Atlanta United will have a key fixture on Sunday against Chicago Fire. A victory and the Five Stripes could secure the Supporters Shield, which is awarded to the club with the most points in the Major League Soccer regular season. But that potential title win will be just one storyline. On the pitch, two German midfielders will also dictate the tempo of their respective clubs – Julian Gressel for Atlanta and Bastian Schweinsteiger for the Chicago Fire.
Although both hail from the German state of Bavaria their careers and backgrounds could not be any different – the 34-year-old Schweinsteiger is looking back at a 15-year pro-career that saw him win eight German Bundesliga titles, the Champions League and the FIFA World Cup with Germany. In August his former club Bayern München honoured their former captain with a testimonial game that saw his current club Chicago Fire face the German giants.
Julian Gressel, in the meantime, can only dream of such heights at the moment. Born in northern Bavaria in the Neustadt an der Aisch played youth football for SpVgg Greuther Fürth but was considered not good enough to make the jump to the upper team and ended up playing Regionalliga Bayern (fourth division) football for Eintracht Bamberg in the 2011/12 season.
Without any prospect of professional soccer, Gressel made the casino online españa gamble and moved to the United States to play college soccer for Providence College. It was a decision that would have a significant impact on his football career.
Gressel – From College prospect to Gresselmania
During his second season at Providence his college reached the Final Four, and for the first time, the now 24-year-old believed that becoming a professional would be possible. “After my first season I had a conversation with my coach, and he said that [becoming professional] would be a possibility for me,” Gressel told the German sports page transfermarkt.de. “I then worked hard for two years, and it is pretty cool that it worked out,” Gressel further explained.
The newly formed MLS club Atlanta United drafted Gressel in the eighth spot of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Atlanta United were not your typical expansion team, however. Owned by the ambitious Arthur Blank, the club hired Argentine head coach Gerardo Martino ahead of the club’s first season in the league.
Martino, together with technical director Carlos Bocanegra decided to do things a bit different with the new club in Atlanta. The two identified high profile players like Miguel Almiron and striker Josef Martinez and combined them with players like Julian Gressel to create a tactical masterpiece. Much has been written about Almiron, who will likely become the most expensive player to leave MLS this winter and striker Josef Martinez, who shattered the MLS goalscoring record this season.
Gressel, however, is very much a key piece in the Atlanta United revolution. The 24-year-old midfielder often operates as one of the advanced midfielders in Tata Martino’s system, but his vision and ability has also allowed him to play in other positions. Against New England Revolution on matchday 32, for example, he played as a right-back leaving some enthusiastic Atlanta fans to call Gressel the best German right-back in history.
What are Gressel’s strengths?
In truth, however, Gressel is best suited to the midfield role, however. Similar to Schweinsteiger at Chicago it is here that the 24-year-old can dictate the pace and tempo for his side.
But even further back Gressel has the situational control over a game. Four goals and a team-high 12 assists in 31 games highlight that the German is a productive player. Gressel is also third, behind Almiron and Ezequiel Barco, among Atlanta players with 1.8 key passes a game.
Gressel, however, is a complete player for Atlanta. Defensively, he is second with 2.3 tackles a game behind Leandro Pirez and Eric Remedi. With 1.3 interceptions per game Gressel is also first among midfielders in the Atlanta United squad. Perhaps his one shortcoming has been his pass completion rate, which this season is at 77.2%, which ranks him 20th in the Atlanta squad.
The low pass completion rate, however, could be explained by Gressel’s changing role in the squad. With Martino using Gressel to fill holes all over the pitch the German has been forced to play out of position. Furthermore, playing on the right Gressel now makes more attacking runs that end in crosses into the box. The result has been an impressive 12 assists but also a drop in pass completion as he no longer occupies the centre of the park.
What is next for Gressel?
“We want to win the Supporters’ Shield – it is sort of like a championship as we are getting a trophy. The standing for this trophy might not be as high as the MLS Cup … but for us as a team, it is the trophy that shows that we were consistently the best team over 34 games,” Gressel told transfermarkt.de.
As for the playoffs? “Atlanta as a sporting town has not won a cup for quite some time. Now we want to be the first to present the fans a trophy,” Gressel said further. But what will be next?
“You never know what happens next in football … for now the plan is to play until 2020 in Atlanta,” Gressel said asked about a possible move to Europe. But at the same time, Gressel also has said in the past that “he would regret it if he wouldn’t try to go to Europe.”
Alphonso Davies’ transfer from the Whitecaps to Bayern München highlights that MLS is receiving more focus among Europe’s big leagues. Germany, in particular, is paying attention and Gressel has been given plenty of attention in the German media. With this in mind, it would be no major surprise if a side will give Gressel an opportunity to show his skills in the Bundesliga.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.