Notching 25 assists in just 68 games, Atlanta's Gressel joins elite company

Julian Gressel notched another assist on Sunday, his second in as many games, by delivering the cross Ezequiel Barco headed home to salvage a 1-1 home draw for Atlanta United against the Philadelphia Union.

If the play seems familiar, it’s because it closely resembles dozens like it served up over the past two years by the versatile German-American, who has now reached the milestone of 25 career assists with startling speed for a domestically-acquired MLS player.

Gressel’s 25th assist came in just his 68th regular-season game, a rate faster than any other player who’s entered the league as a rookie. And among all active players, it’s bettered only by pricey imported Designated Players Nicolas Lodeiro, Diego Valeri and Maxi Moralez.

Gressel’s rate of assist-gathering surpasses the previous high mark for domestics, 25 assists in 74 games set by two US internationals: Sacha Kljestan in his first three professional seasons, with Chivas USA, and Clint Mathis at the LA Galaxy and MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls).

Selected by Atlanta with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after his solid four-year NCAA career at Providence, Gressel, who turned 25 in December, won the 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Award after contributing five goals and nine assists in 32 appearances (24 starts) as a key utility man among the Five Stripes’ litany of stars.

He’s maintained that clip, despite playing in five different positions on the field last season. As’s Sam Stejskal wrote in the leadup to MLS Cup 2018, Gressel’s rate of productivity relative to his salary makes him arguably the best value in MLS.

He’s on the third season of the four-year contract he signed out of college, and his future – he’s expressed interest in a return to Europe, but also married an American over the winter, putting him on track for domestic roster status and perhaps even US national team eligibility – will be one of the most keenly-watched subplots in Atlanta and beyond in the months ahead.

Fastest to reach 25 assists among current active players

Player Games
Nicolas Lodeiro, 2018 56
Diego Valeri, 2014 58
Maxi Moralez, 2018 61
Julian Gressel, 2019 68
Sacha Kljestan, 2008 74

Fastest to reach 25 assists among players who entered the league as a rookie

Player Games
Julian Gressel, 2019 68
Sacha Kljestan, 2008 74
Brian Maisonneuve, 1999 81
Antonio Martinez, 2005 84
Pat Noonan, 2006 89

All statistics courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau. For these purposes, the definition of a rookie is “a player who has no prior professional soccer playing experience before his MLS debut and/or has completed his college/high-school eligibility within the last year.”