Julian Gressel is still trying to fit in with D.C. United

Gressel’s numbers in Atlanta were the product of a proactive style that averaged 66 goals per year, a league high during his tenure. In ...



Gressel’s numbers in Atlanta were the product of a proactive style that averaged 66 goals per year, a league high during his tenure. In Washington, tactics are more conservative and personnel less dynamic.

“We certainly think there is more to come from him,” Coach Ben Olsen said ahead of Toronto FC’s visit to Audi Field on Saturday night. “There are some areas [where] he’s what we expected and there are some areas we need to still see some improvement. … Once that starts to come, I think you’ll start to see a very good version of him.”

Gressel, 26, arrived with high expectations because of his statistics and influence on an Atlanta team that won the 2018 MLS Cup and 2019 U.S. Open Cup. In the trade, United relinquished up to $1.1 million in MLS funds known as allocation money and agreed to increase his salary more than four-fold to an estimated $700,000.

Gressel’s integration into D.C.’s system has not gone smoothly, in part because, amid a stream of injuries, Olsen has asked him to fill various roles.

“It’s certainly been a process,” the 2017 MLS rookie of the year said. “A lot of moving pieces, where it wasn’t easy to define a clear role for me from the start.”

Gressel started the year in central midfield, moved to his natural slot on the right wing and dropped deeper in the formation in becoming a wing back.

“We have really used [Gressel’s] versatility, which is a good thing to have as a player but it can also hurt you when you’re trying to build relationships, especially as a guy with his profile as a provider,” Olsen said.

In a 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls last weekend, Gressel started higher in the formation and pinched inside to become more engaged in the attack, creating chances and sliding into scoring positions.

“It was a bit better,” Gressel said. “We just have to find a way to score, including me. It’s still not there yet. I can be a bit more dangerous myself, create more chances and have more chances.”

Late in the first half last weekend, Ryan Meara made a terrific save on Gressel’s attempt and, on Gressel’s subsequent corner kick, the goalkeeper thwarted Gelmin Rivas’s scorching volley.

United’s nine goals are one fewer than Los Angeles FC’s Diego Rossi and tied with three other teams for second fewest in the league. (Cincinnati has scored seven.) Eight individuals have at least as many assists as United (five).

D.C. has failed to score in four of its past seven matches and recorded multiple goals just twice this year.

Injuries have hurt the cause, but so has the dearth of production from Gressel, striker Ola Kamara and midfielders Edison Flores and Yamil Asad. Flores, the other big winter acquisition, is sidelined with a concussion and facial fracture, suffered in a head-to-head collision Aug. 25. He has yet to register a goal or assist.

Gressel “is at the mercy of the people around him to excel,” Olsen said. “That will come as we narrow in on who we are.”

As Gressel seeks to grow into his new team, he is laying deeper roots in the area. He and his wife Casey have settled into a new home in Loudoun County, near United’s future training center, and their first child is due in six weeks.

“We’re excited,” he said, “for the next step in our lives.”

Notes: United received $50,000 in general allocation money from Inter Miami for relinquishing the MLS discovery rights to Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, the former Juventus star who Friday signed with the expansion team. …

Captain Steven Birnbaum (ankle) is day to day and Russell Canouse (hamstring) remains out. …

Toronto FC at D.C. United

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Live stream: dcunited.com.

Records: Toronto 6-2-3, 21 points; United 2-5-4, 10 points.

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Newsrust: Julian Gressel is still trying to fit in with D.C. United
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