Gressel’s versatility could help Atlanta United

One of the first signs that Julian Gressel may not be a typical rookie — in any sport — came after his name was called by Atlanta United as the eighth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft on Friday in Los Angeles.

Gressel looked into a nearby TV camera, showing no nerves, and thanked his family. Then few seconds later, he again looked into the camera again and told Atlanta United’s fans, “It’s a huge honor being part of something new. Let’s go win some games.”

Gressel seemed as comfortable on the draft-day podium as he did during the combine in the days before. He was a tackling machine on Thursday, slamming into players hard enough that the contact on the field could be heard in the press box. The better he played, the more Atlanta United executive became convinced to select him.

“It’s a huge honor,” Gressel said. “It’s something new. For me, anywhere would have been something new. But now it’s a double. I’m grateful for them believing in me and happy moving forward.”

Though he has been compared in his potential to U.S. men’s national team stalwart Michael Bradley, also a deep midfielder, (by Will Parchman on, Gressel is actually an attack-minded midfielder who scored 30 goals in four seasons at Providence College.

But it’s that ability to play any of the midfield positions, combined with his size, tactical awareness and ability to take coaching, that may see him earn minutes as a rookie even though he will be competing in what appears to be a deep and competitive middle of the field. The Atlanta United roster already features MLS veteran Jeff Larentowicz, English leagues veteran Chris McCann, Designated Player Miguel Almiron and recently signed Yamil Asad, among others.

“His versatility is good,” Providence coach Craig Stewart said. “Not a bad question, when you ask what’s his bad position.”

Gressel enrolled at Providence after growing up in Neustadt an der Aisch, Germany, where he followed his favorite team, Bayern Munich, and favorite player, midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger.

He wanted to play college soccer in the U.S. because he wanted to continue his education, as well as pursue a chance to play professionally.

Gressel used an online service that connected him with Providence. He said the connection he felt with Stewart and the assistant coaches, as well as the quality of the education and the school’s plans to develop its soccer team, sealed his decision to enroll.

Among Gressel’s highlights with the Friars were helping him them reach the semifinals of the College Cup (NCAA championship game) in 2014.

“From Day One, he’s kind of acted like a professional, even when with us on the college game,” Stewart said. “He made a huge impact on our campus, not only as player but he’s a fantastic human being as well.”

Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said he likes Gressel’s size (6-feet-1, 185 pounds) and that has a simple playing style.

“He’s come through good systems (in Germany),” Bocanegra said. “He likes the game. He has a good knowledge of the game. We think he’s ready to contribute minutes now.”

Gressel said his friends back home had a hard time understanding why he would leave Germany and why he would be interested in MLS. His answer provides another example of his maturity.

“I saw the potential and what it could be,” he said. “Now, hopefully, all my friends and family are convinced by MLS and will support me. I think that’s the case.

“The interest is growing. All the games are streamed live online. It’s a great time to be part of the league and the teams that come into the league.”