MLS Awards: Gressel holds sway in Rookie of the Year race

Once mainly the province of college players who had either completed their eligibility or opted to leave school early, the proliferation of academy products and Homegrown players has brought a different feel to the award limited to players in their first year of professional soccer.

Many of the top young players new to the league, such as Jefferson Savarino of Real Salt Lake, are not eligible due to professional experience prior to their arrival in MLS. Last year’s winner, Jordan Morris, broke a run of five straight selections who had been picked in the MLS SuperDraft. The list dates back to 2010, when Homegrown Player Andy Najar -- who had signed a pro deal to play for D.C. United when he was 17 -- became the first Rookie of the Year not to play college soccer.

Morris delayed his pro career a year to play a final season at Stanford, which he helped win the NCAA title in 2015. The next year he scored 14 goals (including playoffs) and won an MLS Cup with the Sounders to mark the third straight season a forward had won the award.

Twice in league history a No. 1 SuperDraft pick has won Rookie of the Year: Maurice Edu (2007) and Cyle Larin (2016). The 2017 No. 1 pick has played well of late but is probably destined to wind up second or third in the voting.

Two of the top candidates are forward Abu Danladi (Minnesota United) and defender Jack Elliott (Philadelphia United), but the frontrunner from day one has been and continues to be midfielder Julian Gressel, taken at No. 8 by Atlanta United using a slot acquired from Orlando City in exchange for outside back Donny Toia.

Julian Gressel (Ryan Catanese, photo courtesy of Atlanta United FC)

Danladi was the No. 1 pick and at No. 2 AUFC selected Syracuse defender Miles Robinson. Most of the first-round picks have scrapped for playing time: along with three mentioned, only Jackson Yeuill (San Jose) and Jacob Nerwinski (Vancouver) have logged more than 900 minutes. But others such as Homegrown signings Alex Crognale (Columbus), Ian Harkes (D.C. United), and Nick Lima (San Jose), and academy graduate Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake) have established themselves as first-teamers if not guaranteed starters.

Gressel, 23, is a German native who was born in Bavaria and played at Providence College, earning NSCAA First-Team All-America honors as a senior. As a pro, he quickly established himself in the starting lineup for an expansion team that hit the ground running and is bound for the playoffs.

In the potent AUFC lineup he’s taken on a few different roles and generated impressive statistics. In starting 23 of 31 games he’s scored five goals and contributed nine assists, which are solid numbers for a player often asked to anchor central midfield as many of his teammates push forward. Yet recently he’s done some playmaking in the absence of Miguel Almiron.

In a 3-0 defeat of Philadelphia, Sept. 28 he scored a goal and set one up for Josef Martinez as AUFC clinched a playoff spot, the first expansion club to do in its first season since the 2009 Sounders.

“Today, he did everything exactly how we asked him,” said head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino. “I think looking at all of the players who are in their [first pro season] that he definitely deserves the award.”

The second choice boils down to Danladi, who placed second on the Loons with eight goals, and Elliott, a starter in all but one of his 29 appearances. Both have been impressive but we’ll give the kid from Ghana the nod over a very valuable import from England.

Winner: Julian Gressel (Atlanta United). 2. Abu Danladi (Minnesota United).

1 comment about "MLS Awards: Gressel holds sway in Rookie of the Year race".
  1. David Sterling, October 19, 2017 at 4:08 p.m.

    Gressel, 55% of SOG go into the back of the net; Danladi, 61%. Gressel has a goal rate of .003/min; Danladi, .006/min. Gressel has been fouled 14 times for a very low .007/min; while Danladi has been fouled 26 times for a rate of .019/min. Gressel has more assists, however, he will when he has only contributed to 7% of the teams goals, while Danladi has accounted for 18%, and is far more involved as a true target man. This will result in lower assists by default. Further Danladi has done this with a subpar midfield, which only until the end of summer, had one prolific player.

    There is no question, Danladi has had a better season, and is more deserving of the ROY. The only reason Gressel will win it, is because he plays for Atlanta, and that is a terrible reason for any award to be given. 

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