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).