Atlanta United answered a question that had been floating around earlier in the week by formally announcing that Jacob Peterson had been waived. When healthy, Peterson lived up to his nickname as ‘The Answer’ providing reinforcement to the midfield when called upon and providing three goals that all meant something to the fans.
The first was the exclamation mark on Atlanta’s snowy win in Minnesota where they announced their arrival to the league (I will die enjoying Twellman completely snap on the Minnesota defense.) The second rescued a point in Kansas City where goals – much less points – were hard to come by. Finally, he put the nail in Philadelphia’s coffin to finish off Atlanta’s astounding late-season homestand.
Without him the midfield options open up for some in the 2018 season, and the creation of Atlanta United 2 might make things even more interesting.
Atlanta could ask Brandon Vazquez to spend time down in Gwinnett after an up and down 2017, where he would be more likely to accumulate minutes. Andrew Carleton might be in the same boat, though either could force the team’s hand with outstanding performances.
Two names we could see a lot of in 2018 throughout the midfield are Kevin Kratz and Julian Gressel.
At this point fans know what to make of Kratz: a versatile midfielder who is capable of delivering devastating set pieces and is – through some form of possibly dark magic – a lock to become a terror in cup competitions.
Gressel, however, could become Atlanta’s own Answer for the future.
The reigning Rookie of the Year found his groove as the 2017 season progressed and became a vital cog in a potent attack that was not always healthy. From starting as a holding midfield – a role not dissimilar to what people will probably see from Darlington Nagbe, meaning more offensive support and less emphasis on defense – to becoming a terror on the wings and forming the Lovecraftian ‘Gressel-Kratz’ Gressel put all of his tools to the whetstone.
It felt like every time we saw the now 24-year-old show an error in his game, it was improved shortly thereafter. His passing, while a bit shaky to start, improved as time went on and while some errors were punished, they became less frequent. Eventually, he showed maturity in high-leverage situations where he played like anything but a rookie. He had already shown his ability in front of goal in college and it translated well to MLS with calm collected finishes mixed with rockets that would lead one to assume that his leg would be considered a suitable firearm should he take up residence in Kennesaw and be required to keep one on the premises. And any shortcomings he has a dribbler are made up for with his brute strength and his ability to hold up play when called up.
Ironically, the clogged midfield for Atlanta United might push Gressel to work more on his defensive game and thus take another step to this Peterson 2.0 endgame. He has experience playing in the back in his youth and working there along with more time alongside countryman Kevin Kratz should help him improve. Of course, there is always the chance Atlanta sends him to Gwinnett to log minutes at outside back or wingback depending on this season goes. That being said, Atlanta will surely still find him time on the field in attacking roles, where he grew to be as dangerous off the ball as on it.
There is nothing wrong with finding players who can be a jack of all trades, master of none. True, you don’t want to necessarily bog down your roster with too many of them, but they can be vital in a long season and the draft is a fine place to find them. Especially when you consider the lack of expected upside expected in the mid-to-late first round and beyond.
Atlanta does not have many questions on the roster going into 2018 and beyond, but if questions do pop up, Julian Gressel may be the answer.