There are plenty of big-name players that drive across the field with flair that could easily get the attention of Atlanta United fans, but there’s one midfielder in particular who has captured their hearts one month into the club’s first season.
Rookie midfielder Julian Gressel earned a spot in Tata Martino’s first starting XI and has impressed alongside big names like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. Gressel’s early success has even led supporters to coin the rookie with the affectionate “Gresselmania” nickname.
“It’s obviously something cool that makes me happy to be honest,” Gressel told SBI. “It’s also a testimony to me and the way I’ve played in the last month. It’s something nice that they recognize that and created something unique that I’m really happy for.”
Gressel admits he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to catch the eye of the former Barcelona manager in preseason, he just approached preseason like any hard-working rookie would.
“It’s not like I did something specific, I’ve just been consistent,” Gressel said. “I had a pretty good preseason and good start to the season. Coming in I decided to be myself and play the way I knew how to play and obviously (Tata) tried to teach me more and I’m still trying to learn and stuff. It’s been working out.”
Sometimes it may be hard for a young player like Gressel to break into such a talented starting XI right away, and although the German-born midfielder has been in awe of his teammates on a few occasions, he’s more worried about making them better instead of watching them score countless dazzling strikes.
“Those guys are special players, Josef (Martinez) and Miguel (Almiron),” Gressel said. “It’s cool, but at the same time they are my teammates and I play together with them on the field and we just try to make those fans happy and they’ve given us some incredible support so far.”
“We’re trying to win games together, but yeah those guys are definitely special players that can change games instantly so I can learn a lot from them as well,” Gressel said. “We’ve found a way to connect pretty well and we’re still building upon that.”
Gressel took the road less traveled to MLS, as he came to Providence by way of Germany. The 23-year-old was able to draw some similarities between the American college system and the German youth ranks, but every winding path to the pros carries its share of differences.
“Everywhere you go it’s going to be different,” Gressel said. “The college system is very unique in a way where it kind of relates to the way of the playing in the U23s in Germany, it’s like a youth team sometimes. Some you have the facilities that are much better and the surroundings that help you get better as a player that they might not have in other settings, like Germany for example.”
“It’s definitely been an experience for me,” Gressel said. “It helped me develop and helped me get to the point where I am and become a starter in my first year here in MLS. It’s different from Germany, but it’s definitely been a good experience.”
Major League Soccer’s exposure in Germany was growing in increments over the years Gressel was in college, and he received attention from back home when he was drafted by the expansion club, but it’s become a whole different animal in recent weeks with the Chicago Fire’s signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“More and more people know about MLS, and now with Schweinsteiger, it’s getting bigger and bigger in Germany on a daily basis,” Gressel said. “I know there’s live games on TV over there as well. When they found out I was going to be in MLS, a lot of people wrote me from back home saying they’re going to follow me and they’ve been following the development of MLS. You see that it’s growing and getting bigger over there.”
MLS is also growing and getting bigger by the day in the Atlanta area, where the tremendous support of Atlanta United expands with each game. The passion from the fans has become a driving force for the club and Gressel to succeed in their first year.
“It’s a great atmosphere (at Bobby Dodd Stadium),” Gressel said. “The fans are right on top of you so it’s definitely a great stadium. It’s been an unbelievable start to the season and the fans have just been incredible.”
“We have aspirations and the quality that we can win every game we play, no matter if it’s home or away.”