It’s certainly hard to get noticed when playing alongside attackers like Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba. Atlanta United’s attack monster was loaded with young, exciting pieces, resulting in a swashbuckling run to the playoffs unlike any ever put together by an expansion side.
Through it all, though, Julian Gressel was as consistent a presence as any in the Atlanta United lineup as the German-born midfielder neared some attacking records in a standout rookie campaign.
Gressel provided five goals and a whopping nine assists as a key cog in the Atlanta United midfield. The assist mark fell just one shy of the rookie record set by Clint Mathis in 1998.
While the numbers themselves were enough to earn Gressel honors as SBI MLS Rookie of the Year, it was his presence in the middle of the field that set him apart throughout his debut season.
Selected eighth overall by Atlanta after a standout career at Providence, Gressel’s ability to beat defenders and pick out a final ball were vital for an attack-minded Atlanta team. When all was said and done, Gressel appeared 32 times for the club, making a total of 24 starts along the way.
His versatility saw him moved all over the midfield and even onto the wing, offering head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino a variety of looks throughout the year. The season ended with a total of 70 goals in 34 games, a playoff appearance and some major recognition for the club’s rookie star.
Here is a rundown of the other candidates for the SBI MLS Rookie of the Year Award, as chosen by SBI Editorial Staff:
2. JACK ELLIOTT
Jack Elliott wasn’t supposed to be much of a contributor on the MLS level. Few fourth round picks are. However, Elliott rapidly became one of the most important young defenders in the league.
Elliott was selected with the 77th overall pick this past January, but the central defender was nothing short of a revelation for the Philadelphia Union. With injuries proving a theme all through the Union defense, Elliott earned the starting gig in April and never relinquished it. He started 29 consecutive games while continuously proving to be the club’s most reliable defender.
3. ABU DANLADI
Selected first overall by Minnesota United, Abu Danladi faced a ton of pressure. He was brought in to provide goals for an expansion franchise, and he scored some big ones.
Four of the former UCLA star’s eight goals were of the game-winning variety as Danladi provided a goalscoring spark for a Loons team still finding an identity. The Ghanaian-born striker racked up 27 appearances and 15 starts throughout the season, joining Christian Ramirez as a focal point of an evolving Minnesota United attack.
4. JAKE NERWINSKI
Jake Nerwinski’s athleticism got him drafted, but it was his ability and composure that made him a big part of the Whitecaps defense.
The UConn product shined athletically at the combine and, after several early appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League, Nerwinski rapidly became a Whitecaps regular. The fullback featured 19 times while providing five assists after becoming a regular starter in July.
5. NICK LIMA
There isn’t a crazy amount of flash to Nick Lima’s game, but the young fullback showed that he has the ability to be a lockdown defender for the San Jose Earthquakes for years to come.
Lima burst onto the scene early in the season, holding down a number of the league’s best wingers while netting his first professional goal, a game-winner, in only his second appearance. When all was said and done, Lima finished the season with 22 appearances and 20 starts for an Earthquakes team that surprised many with a run into the postseason.
What do you think of our selection? Which player stood out to you as Rookie of the Year in 2017?
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