Before January’s MLS SuperDraft, Julian Gressel scanned the rosters of league teams looking for fellow natives of Germany.
There weren’t many.
About 30 minutes after the midfielder was selected by Atlanta United with the eighth pick, he re-checked the expansion team’s roster.
Bingo, Kevin Kratz.
Though Gressel’s hometown of Neustadt an der Aisch is at least a three-hour drive from Kratz’s hometown of Eschweiler, the two have gravitated toward each other during the preseason camp.
“We’ve connected,” said Gressel, who is seven years younger than Kratz.
Kratz is one of several players that Gressel has connected with in his desire to develop into a good pro. Everything about the team and league is new to him, but Gressel said he is pretty adaptable. He may have learned that playing everything from a wide midfielder to central midfielder to forward while in college at Providence.
Gressel also watches and talks with veterans Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz and Greg Garza, observing their habits before and after practice.
“You want to perform every day and give it your all every day,” Gressel said said. “Not just two practice sessions a week, but every day. You just try to soak in as much as you can.”
Kratz, who was a pro in Germany before coming to MLS with Philadelphia last season, is impressed by what he has seen from Gressel and shared his wisdom gleaned from spending more than 10 years in the academy system of Bayer Leverkusen, where he said “his heart is still a little bit there.” The two speak German when they are alone and will switch to English when they are with teammates.
“He’s doing pretty good so far, from what I’ve seen,” Kratz said. “What I’ve learned is preparation before training and recovery time after training. Take a few minutes on your own, every day a little bit, and it will make you feel better. Be yourself on the field, but stay in the system.”
Both are midfielders and played in the second half of last week’s 4-0 win over Chattanooga. Gressel played all 45 minutes, while Kratz played 30. Gressel contributed an assist on a goal by Josef Martinez. The two worked well together in the middle of the field, pulling the strings on the attack or breaking up counter-attacks by Chattanooga.
“Still some pieces we need to work on, like when to go forward at the right time or just to keep the ball,” Kratz said. “But I think the support was amazing. I think we showed what we are capable of, but still have a lot of work to do before the next game.”
Atlanta United’s next game will come against MLS-side Columbus on Saturday in Charleston, S.C. in the Carolina Challenge Cup. It will be the preseason’s first test. The team will play Seattle on Feb. 22 and Charleston on Feb. 25.
Gressel, pointing out that it’s the first cup tournament that Atlanta United will compete in, said the team is going to go for it.
“We want to be competitive,” he said. “We want to win. Why not go out there and try to win some games?”