Julian Gressel recalls 'long journey' on the road to making USMNT debut
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC right back is part of this year's January camp
Julian Gressel has been one of the best right backs in MLS over the past few years.
The 29-year-old defender began playing the game in his native Germany before coming over to Atlanta United FC in 2017.
Gressel quickly made an impact thanks to his speed and defense-splitting passes, something he continued to do at DC United starting in 2020 and last season with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Over the course of his career, Gressel was named MLS Rookie of the Year in 2017 and helped Atlanta win MLS Cup a year later. But it wasn’t until this past November that Gressel became an American citizen, finally paving the way for him to be called up to the USMNT.
“It was a long journey and one that’s pretty unusual, I think,” Gressel said.
Over the course of six seasons, Gressel, known for flying down the flank, has scored 21 goals and added 60 assists. Normally, those numbers would get you called up to the national team. But Gressel’s biggest hurdle wasn’t his form, but his German passport.
“Obviously, it wasn't possible before because of the [U.S.] citizenship that I've just recently gotten now, finally,” Gressel, speaking with reporters on Saturday, said on the first day of this year’s January camp taking place in Southern California. “For me, it’s an exciting week to be here.”
Two dozen German-American dual nationals have featured for the U.S. over the decades, including Thomas Dooley, John Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler.
Gressel could make his U.S. debut as early as Wednesday in a friendly against Serbia at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The U.S. also plays Colombia on Jan. 28 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.
But Gressel said he’s not worried about that first cap. Instead, Gressel said he’s “just trying to do my best this week and put my best foot forward and get to know everybody.”
“It gives them a chance to get to know me, and whatever comes in the future, I’ll deal with that then, I’ll worry about that later,” he added.
Gressel first visited the United States as a high school student. He later opted to come to college in this country — and play soccer at Providence College in Rhode Island — where he met his future wife Casey. His marriage to her eventually led to his getting U.S. citizenship.
“I fell in love with the country and that’s why it’s really exciting to be able to represent the U.S. on the field in these upcoming two games,” Gressel said. “Even my family back home — they’re obviously all German and all from Germany — they’re very excited.”
This year’s January camp has been marred by the Gregg Berhalter-Gio Reyna feud that has triggered an investigation. This camp, which will be run by assistant coach Anthony Hudson, is the first time the USMNT is back together since the World Cup in Qatar.
“Obviously, a lot happened, especially after the World Cup,” Gressel said. “That’s why it was still a bit uncertain about what this camp would look like. Then it was a great surprise to find out that at first I was on the preliminary roster, then Anthony Hudson called me and asked me if I wanted to come in and it was a great conversation.”
Those who think the call up is a reward for his past success and that at his age somehow rules him out for a roster spot at the 2026 World Cup, Gressel said, “No matter what happens in the future, I think you can show that you want to be a part of the group moving forward, whatever that will look like.”