When news dropped last week that Julian Gressel was traded from Atlanta United to D.C. United, one of the immediate questions surrounded how exactly the 26-year-old would fit into head coach Ben Olsen’s plans.
That specific answer will formalize during preseason before D.C.’s home opener Feb. 29 against the Colorado Rapids, but during an interview with Extratime on Monday, Gressel made clear where he would prefer not to be deployed.
“I don’t think I’m a right back, but I think that’s the consensus in general where every coach I’ve spoken to doesn’t see me as a right back,” Gressel said. “If there’s need be, obviously I’ll play that, but I don’t think for an extended amount of time I’ll play there too often. It’ll probably be one of the other five spots that I play.”
That last remark is no exaggeration from Gressel, who was a utility man in every sense of the phrase from 2017-19 for the Five Stripes. In recording 15 goals and 35 assists across 98 regular-season appearances, Gressel often featured wide right and centrally. He was remarkably steady at several positions, a luxury that ex-manager Tata Martino and current head coach Frank de Boer leaned into.
Still, the 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year hopes for some clarity as he adjusts to playing for the Black-and-Red. Alongside wide player Paul Arriola, midfielder Edison Flores and forward Ola Kamara, D.C.’s attack for 2020 suddenly has some extra bite.
“I’m happy to be here, I’m excited to fit into the squad and figure out a role,” Gressel said. “Where that will be on the field is TBD, we’ll figure that out as we go along here in preseason. Hopefully we can put a good team out there that can compete every weekend.”
As much as the trade shocked the broader MLS community, Gressel said he wasn’t quite as taken aback. When he reported for preseason amid a semi-public contract dispute, he started to sense his future might lie elsewhere.
In fact, Gressel long expected a resolution to emerge in Atlanta. He had a base salary of just over $114,000 in 2019, according to MLS Players’ Union data, which made him a comparative bargain given his on-field production.
“I always thought I was going to stay in Atlanta, that was always the consensus,” Gressel said. “But it ended up not happening that way and that’s OK. Like I said, I’m excited that the whole process is done now and I just can go back to playing.”
Gressel originally entered the league in 2017 as a first-round SuperDraft selection out of Providence College, and eventually won that year’s MLS Rookie of the Year award. As Atlanta acquired high-profile South Americans such as striker Josef Martinez and midfielders Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, Gressel was often the one coming up clutch. And Gressel never viewed himself as being on a level below that international talent.
“I’ve always wanted to be a guy who’s up there with all the stars that Atlanta bought,” Gressel said. “That was Josef, that was Pity, that was Barco. I’ve never seen myself as lesser than those guys, and I think I’ve shown that on the field.”
Now, he’ll have the chance to back up that claim in his new surroundings.