Gressel ready to fight for Atlanta United starting spot

Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel has a goal this season.

“I want to play. I want to start,” he said. “That’s just my mentality. I’m not going into this being content with coming off the bench. I want to be in the first team every game. I will show that every single day on the pitch, and we will see what the coach decides in the end. That’s what it comes down to.”

Despite being named the MLS Rookie of the Year after scoring five goals, notching nine assists and showing the ability to capably play many different positions during the season, Gressel now finds himself in a tough competition for playing time.

Not only did the Five Stripes bring back defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, they added central midfielder Darlington Nagbe in a record trade with Portland and then broke an MLS transfer record by spending a reported $15 million to acquire midfielder Ezequiel Barco.

The midfield is so clogged with talent that earlier this week manager Gerardo Martino said the team may have to petition the league to allow them to field as many as 13 players.

There may be some good news to what should be considered the good problem of having too much talent.

Gressel said Wednesday that he’s willing to play right fullback or right wingback. He played right fullback and left fullback for a season with FC Eintracht Bamberg in his native Germany before he enrolled at Providence.

“I just want to play,” he said. “It’s up to Tata (Martino) where he wants to put me.”

Gressel proved his worth last season. After he was surprisingly selected by Atlanta United with the eighth pick in the SuperDraft, Gressel came into camp with few on the outside expecting much. The team’s midfield seemed set and deep with veterans and high-priced players.

Gressel played well in training camp and earned a starting spot in the inaugural game. He started 23 more games, playing everywhere from defensive midfielder to striker to clinch the Rookie of the Year. The trophy should arrive by the end of the month. Gressel said he probably will put it beside his fiancee’s CPA license, which he said was harder earned.

With a year under his belt, Gressel said he’s more comfortable, and wants to be a good teammate by helping the team’s new players grow more at ease with the goal of winning the MLS Cup.

“Now, it’s getting to work and getting better as team,” he said. “You have some new additions that you have to take care of a little bit. The rookies, I know how it feels. Trying to be the guy to help those guys get integrated quickly.”

Gressel said he wants to become a more consistent player. He went through a lull during the summer last year but bounced back to play well in September and helped the team clinch a playoff berth and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Gressel said finding that level of comfort for the returning players should be easier for several reasons.

“We have a home,” he said. “Last year we didn’t have a home. Now it’s easier to focus only on what we have to do on the field. … We have this facility and the training pitches, and we know the coaching staff. Now we know how they work. We know what they want. It’s definitely a lot easier to push on and take the next step.”

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