When Greg Garza went down with a long-term injury earlier this season, it was a loss that any team would feel. But while Tata knew the quality of the player he lost, he knew he had a player right behind him ready to step up.
“Mikey [Ambrose] is like a boy scout,” Martino told reporters this weekend through a translator Saturday. “He’s always prepared. Even when he’s called on in isolated instances to play, he’s always ready. Now that he’s playing more consistently he’s even more ready to contribute.”
Ambrose, who hardly featured at all last year, has filled in beautifully at the left back position, shining against his former club Orlando City on Saturday. He’s a young player that is seizing his chance, and it’s catching the attention of his veteran teammates.
“We’ve got the ability to bring new faces into the mix and not miss a beat,” said Brad Guzan after the match. “He’s got the quality. He has got the futbol brain. He’s got the ability to get the job done, and we’ve seen that tonight.”
“We’re a team,” Guzan continued. “It’s not just about 11 guys, 12 guys, 13 guys.”
That emphasis on the team over individual brilliance is something that sets this team apart –– and they’ve needed it this year as injuries have threatened their league-leading form. But time after time players have stepped up in new and different ways, and no one has been more critical in that regard than Julian Gressel, now a critical piece of this team. He has played on the wing, then as a wingback, and now, with Nagbe out, Gressel showed his versatility again and thrived in his first start in the center of the pitch.
“[Gressel] was fantastic,” Michael Parkhurst said, “he’s so versatile. He can play inside, outside, he just does the job… He’s got quality wherever he plays on the field. It was a big performance for his first game in there in Nagbe's absence.”
“He was great in the middle of the pitch,” Guzan added. “I thought he knew when to press and when to hold his position. Sometimes it’s not the easiest playing in there just because of the movement and ability of someone like Barco and Miguel. Those guys obviously wander around the field at times during the game and it’s important that other players play off of them and I thought it was great.”
Of course Gressel’s versatility has always been a strength, but don’t think he’s just filling in at each of these roles. He’s bringing real quality and continuing to build on his Rookie of the Year season, and it’s not something that’s gone unnoticed by his manager.
“Julian has become a very important player in the structure of our team,” Martino said. “Even when he played in an inside role like tonight, he is still able to provide assists for us, just like when he plays as a wing back or on the right wing.”
“It’s a lot of balancing between going forward and being aware defensively. I just need to evolve the partnership with Jeff. I just need to get a little more comfortable with the pieces around me, being a little more center oriented instead of just having to work with Franco (Escobar). Now, I’m playing with Miguel (Almíron) and Jeff (Larentowicz), so there’s a few more pieces. I think I did a pretty good job today, and we’ll continue that.”
Gressel and his Atlanta United teammates have no time to rest, with their next challenge coming in a midweek road match in the team’s first ever trip to Dallas. They’ll then head to Philadelphia for a road fixture with the Union before returning the following weekend to host the Seattle Sounders for the first time in Atlanta. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve gotten your tickets here.