Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel was named the MLS Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, running away with the voting.
Gressel, 23, scored five goals and had nine assists in 32 appearances. Gressel believes he won because of his versatility and his production. He was used by manager Gerardo Martino in all three positions in central midfield as well as striker, right midfielder and right wingback.
“I think it’s a cool feeling and a tremendous honor that the whole league recognizes me as a good player that has played a big role this year,” he said.
Gressel was one of three finalists, along with Philadelphia Union defender Jack Elliott and Minnesota United forward Abu Danladi. Voters for the award were current MLS players, members of technical staffs and select media members. Gressel received an average of 53.9 percent of the votes. Danladi received 16.2 percent, and Elliott received 7.9 percent.
It was an interesting season for the native of Germany.
After he was surprisingly picked eighth in the Super Draft, Gressel stood at the podium, looked into the TV camera and said, “It’s a huge honor being part of something new. Let’s go win some games.”
Gressel helped Atlanta United do that. He became an integral part of a team that scored the second-most goals in MLS and became the first expansion team since Seattle in 2009 to make the playoffs.
Gressel was as confident shooting from outside the penalty box as he was diligent in tracking back to play defense, notably chasing down Toronto and U.S men’s national team standout Jozy Altidore and putting him on the ground with a shoulder tackle in the regular-season finale.
As nice as winning the award feels, Gressel said he would trade it for the team winning the MLS Cup. The Five Stripes were beaten by Columbus in a penalty-kick shootout in the first round of the playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The team, it’ll be my goal going into every season, winning trophies and putting myself secondary,” he said.
Gressel said he will spend the offseason trying to improve his conditioning so that he can play as well as he wants no matter whether the game is at home or on the road, on the weekend or in the middle of the week. He said he could sometimes be frustrated with his form. He sustained a dip in production in July and August in which he didn’t score or a goal or register an assist in seven games from July 21-Sept. 16. That improvement that he wants will require working closely with Atlanta United’s sports-science team and the trainers.
Some of that work will occur between now and Dec. 15, when he plans to return to Germany for the holidays, before returning in January for preseason training camp.
“If you can come in at a higher level you might finish at an even higher level,” Gressel said.