Will Gressel role change again for Atlanta United?

Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel is aware that he seems to be the favorite to win the MLS Rookie of the Year at season’s end.

He said he saw a survey of editors, writers and contributors to MLSSoccer.com that was published July 14 in which six of the seven predicted that he would win the award by virtue of his three goals, six assists and appearances in all 19 regular-season games (he's the only rookie to do that).

Unlike the fans of Atlanta United who have made Gressel-mania T-shirts this year to honor the German native, he didn’t seem too impressed with the results of the voting.

“I think I’ve had a pretty good first half of the season, but it’s only half,” said Gressel, who was picked eighth by Atlanta United in the January SuperDraft after a standout career at Providence.

The second half (actually 15 games remaining), in which Gressel can solidify his status as the rookie of the year, starts Friday at Orlando City.

How Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino uses Gressel in the remaining contests will be interesting and likely will affect his chances to win the award.

Though Gressel has started 15 games this season and shown his versatility with time logged at holding midfielder, attacking midfielder, right midfielder and striker, he may get inadvertently squeezed out of a starting spot.

Josef Martinez, who missed 10 games but has scored nine goals, is healthy and is a lock at striker. Miguel Almiron, with eight goals and eight assists, is a lock at attacking midfielder. Hector Villalba, who also has eight goals, is a lock at right-sided midfielder. Yamil Asad, who leads the team with nine assists, will start on the left.

At holding midfielder, Jeff Larentowicz and Carlos Carmona have formed a solid partnership.

Martino isn’t one to tinker with the formation, so there won’t be an extra midfielder position popping up anytime soon that Gressel could slide into.

Asked about Gressel’s role before the 4-2 win against San Jose that sent the team into the Gold Cup break, Martino said:

“Julian is and has always been an important player for us,” he said. “I’m not going to stop counting on him as long as he keeps working with the same level and same attitude. He will always be a part of the roster.”

Injuries, suspensions or players needing to rest may mean that Gressel continues to receive starts. The schedule will get particularly heavy in September, with eight games from the Sept. 10 debut in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to Oct. 3, when the team hosts Minnesota United.

Though a rookie, Gressel is 23 years old and uses that maturity and skill on the field, no matter the position. He finds space in the field to receive the ball, is a good crosser of the ball and uses his size well when defending. He said he used the break to think about how he can improve, including getting better on the ball and being more productive in the final third of the field.

He said he no longer feels like a rookie.

He doesn’t want to relinquish his starting spot, but understands if he becomes the team’s 12th man. He came off the bench in the win against San Jose and provided an assist in 16 minutes of action.

“I’m fine with that role,” he said. “We want to get into the playoffs as a team. That’s the first and foremost my goal as well.”