Another August is upon us. Usually this time of year, we are in the dog days of summer, slogging our way through the post-All Star baseball season and in the midst of the MLS season. We are preparing for schools to reopen for another long year and many of us are brimming with hope for another season of college football.
For many Atlanta United collegians, they are preparing for their first or last year playing for their college program. In just four short years, Atlanta United’s academy has already filled the college ranks with dozens of talented players. These players compete at every level from the top teams in the country like Wake Forest to small community colleges like Georgia Gwinnett College. Luckily, we are generating more and more players heading to the top ranks with each graduating class.
This year will feel very different for these players. The pandemic has disrupted college life in ways beyond just the athletics and collegiate conferences are being forced to make tough decisions to ensure the health of their student athletes and the integrity of their institutions. The Ivy League and several members of the Colonial Athletic Association have already canceled their fall sports seasons and other conferences are postponing the start of their season until September at the earliest. The ACC will be limiting their season to 6 conference games starting on September 10 and ending with the conference championship in early November. These programs are the fortunate ones. Several months ago, the University of Cincinnati cut their historic men’s soccer program from the University’s athletics department in order to save money. It seems incredibly unlikely that this season will not have reverberating effects on the collegiate soccer landscape going forward.
But in order to inspire a comforting sense of normalcy, we will take a look at the academy alumni and formerly-affiliated players representing Atlanta United and Georgia across the country.
Atlanta United’s first class of collegiate seniors. These players come from our earliest U-17/18 squads back in 2016 and were mostly born in 1998.
The most-watched player of the class of 2021 is Wake Forest winger Machop Chol. On top of being a remarkable story of overcoming adversity, Chol is a delightful human being who has cemented himself as a veteran leader for a very good Wake Forest side. Chol has gradually increased his minutes under the Demon Deacon’s coach Bobby Muuss as he continues to improve his playmaking from the wing. Chol is a player who would do well with more time developing in the USL after he graduates so it is no surprise to hear that the Atlanta United front office has been keeping a close eye on this special player.
We will stay in the ACC for our next player who could also see himself playing for the 2’s next year. Bryce Washington returns to Pitt for his second season after transferring from Rutgers. This move paid off for Washington as the veteran defender went on to start nearly every match for Pitt after establishing himself in their backline. Washington will seek to build on his momentum from his first season with Pitt to lead their defense against a very strong ACC.
We head back to Georgia for our last three seniors. Hailing from Ontario, Kareve Richards leads a large contingent of former 5-Stripes with the Mercer Bears. Richards’ defensive versatility proves to be his greatest asset as he played a team-high 1941 minutes last season between the defense and the midfield. Richards offers a calming and steady influence to the Bears’ defense, helping his squad limit opponents to 1.09 and 1.11 goals per game in his first two seasons on the backline. For that solid work, he garnered All-Conference honors twice and looks to close-out his senior campaign on an equally high note.
Cortes has been an absolute stud for the Eagles having earned All-Sun Belt honors each of his three years with the club. During his first couple of years with Georgia Southern, Cortes played a mixture of defense and midfield before firmly cementing himself in the midfield during his third year. From his midfield spot, Cortes has upped his goal and assist tallies each season and continues to improve his precision as a distributor and free kick specialist. Look for Cortes to try to cap off his collegiate career with another year of sustained growth in production and as an all-around player.
Tambadu is coming off of a big year with the Eagles as he went on to win the MVP of Aaron Olitsky Memorial Classic Tournament along with multiple player-of-the-week honors for the Sun Belt Conference. Tambadu’s shift to a more offensive role GSU’s midfield may have something to do with this turn as he scored his first goals for the Eagles last season and likely hopes to steer more of his shots on frame considering how he has over one attempt on goal per match.
Regardless of whether this Georgia Southern team is any good this year, it should be a lot of fun to keep an eye on one of their new transfers, English defender Sam Allardyce who is in fact Big Sam Allardyce’s grandson. Is this a possible hint at who Darren Eales will name as our next manager? God, I hope not.
This year’s juniors are a mix of former youth internationals, transfers, and redshirts. Since the classes only grow from here, we’ll explore each class by position group.
Most of the prestige in this class comes from Justin Garces. It was a huge deal for Atlanta United to land Garces in their academy after he relocated from his South Florida club. Garces has played extensively for the United States’s youth program and went on to represent Atlanta United alongside Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin with the U-17s. More recently, Garces has made camp appearances with the U-20s and the U-19s following his sole youth World Cup experience with the U-17s in India. For such a touted player, he may have gotten some bad luck with his college program. UCLA has historically been a strong soccer school but has had a porous defense during Garces’ tenure leading to him making a career-high 58 saves last season including two shut-outs in a year and a career-high 10 saves against Cal. Overall, UCLA only managed a 6-8-3 record in his second as a starter, even though he ranked second in the Pac-12 in goalie minutes played, saves, and saves per game (3.2). Best of luck to Justin this year and hopefully he has a better team in front of him.
Sam Morton is one of the several players who made the transition from Georgia United to Atlanta United when the academy was founded. Sam currently plays for Princeton University but likely won’t see any playing time this year due to the Ivy League’s cancellation of all fall sports seasons. Hopefully, Sam can make the most of his time off to train and prepare for his additional year of eligibility since he is currently relegated to keeper depth for the Tigers.
Charlie Asensio is solid. In just his sophomore season, Asensio started 21 of the 22 matches Clemson played on the season and was an essential part of the Tigers’ defense that held 10 opponents to shutouts in 2019. After winning an ACC All-Freshman Team honor in 2018, he came back to earn 2nd Team All-ACC in his second season. As a former member of the US National Team’s U-17 residency program, Charlie has very little fear of big moments and it shows in how calm he is on the field and how that translates into his game. As Clemson seeks to replace several key players going into what out to be a chaotic ACC season, look to veterans like Asensio to help this squad weather the storm of a compressed conference sleight of matches.
Clayton Dawes hope to emulate Asensio’s longevity this season as he returns from a medical redshirt last season to bolster Georgia State’s backline. At 6-2, Dawes has the size and athleticism to test Sun Belt competition so it remains to be seen how ready he is to play and how much trust his coach has in his ability to slot into the lineup. Luckily for Dawes, the college game allows for a very different system of substitutions than the professional game so he may earn some minutes spelling other defenders to help get his legs back under him.
Will Crain is yet another Ivy Leaguer who will not be playing this fall. This is especially disappointing for Crain since like Dawes, he is returning from a season-ending injury last year. Crain was hoping to right the ship and rejoin Brown’s backline for the first time since 2018 when he started all 17 matches on the backline and was third in minutes played. As a former captain for Atlanta United’s academy teams from 2016-2018, Crain has the competitive drive to get back out there if he gets the chance. Hopefully, this additional offseason and additional year of eligibility will give him the time he needs to recover, get stronger and faster, and work on his technical abilities.
Blake White is the most important player on his team. On a University of Alabama-Birmingham team that doesn’t score many goals, White has been the leading goal scorer in his first two seasons with the club. In potentially his best match last season, White scored a brace in a shootout against his former academy teammates playing for Mercer. White is also one of several former academy players to train in the offseason with the 4th Division side Georgia Revolution of the NPSL.
Mike Ille is a redshirt junior for the Mercer Bears. After appearing for the Clemson Tigers in just one match in 2017, Ille transferred to Mercer where he has attempted to restart his college career as a midfield contributor who creates opportunities for assists and for his own shots. Ille rarely makes the starting lineup for the Bears and plays a limited amount of minutes but he is an active substitute who attempts to make the most of his chances. Ille will hope to increase his minutes as a substitute this season.
Victor Pereyra-Zavala is another member of the large Georgia State community of Atlanta United alumni. Victor has increased his appearances over the last two seasons and has filled in as a midfield role-player for the Panthers. It is not very likely that he will become a starter for Georgia State but he can continue to compete and find ways to contribute for his side.
Nicolas Perez is yet another player who will be awaiting his chance to play again following the news of the cancelled Ivy League season. Perez has mostly filled in as a role-player for Brown so far and he was likely hoping to have some kind of a breakout season but that will have to wait until next year.
Dawson Gideon is a frequent starter and major part of the Mercer Bears’ offense that won the 2019 Southern Conference Championship and went to the NCAA Tournament. He peppered opposing goals with 61 shots over 21 matches, 25 of which were on goal. Gideon hopes to have a little bit better luck this season so that more than just 4 of his 25 shots on target find the back of the net.
The sophomores this year are an intriguing mix of young talent. With most of these players being born in 2000 or 2001, they are all about the right age to have spent multiple years in the academy. Many of these players are already contributing a great deal to their college sides and look to further cement themselves as core players going forward.
Colin Travasos hopes to finally kick of his collegiate career at the University of California Berkeley. Travasos was heralded as one of the top goalkeeping prospects in his recruiting class but had to wait his freshman year as he was redshirted behind more established veteran goalkeepers. Travasos faces a similar challenge this season as he faces an entrenched upper-classman and a new freshman recruit as his competition. If Travasos can win the starting job or a decent share of the starts, Atlanta United could have two goalkeepers regularly getting minutes in the Pac-12.
Kendall Edwards is potentially the best player of this strong group of defenders. In fact, it was a bit of a surprise that Edwards went to NC State instead of going pro. Edwards was the first academy player to join Atlanta United’s USL side in their inaugural season and continue to make regular starts in 2019 ahead of his first college season. Due to his heavy workload from his academy and USL teams, Edwards was eased into the NC State lineup so as to not burn out their new young star. He made his debut against Longwood for a brief cameo but his first start came against the College of William & Mary on September 10th. Edwards ended his season with nearly 900 minutes of playing time across 12 matches. We may see Edwards play every minute of this upcoming season due to its reduced scope and duration. Every few years there are underclassmen who garner significant attention from MLS through the Generation Adidas program. Edwards could potentially be one of those players this year so Atlanta will be keeping a close eye on his progress.
Luke Mitchell made a strong impression for Creighton in his first collegiate season. Mitchell’s wealth of experience with Atlanta United 2 in 2018 and the US national youth teams set him up for success as he went on to start 10 of his 13 matches, making him the most-used freshman on his team. As of a couple of weeks ago, the Big East Conference plans to go forward with a conference-only fall season with no decision yet on a conference championship. For Mitchell, not being able to play stronger competition from the ACC and other elite conferences will certainly be disappointing, but the chance to continue playing and gaining valuable experience will be essential to his continued development.
Thomas Toney is yet another player to lose a valuable year of development to the pandemic shutdown of the Ivy League fall season. Toney made a lot of progress with Yale last season and was set for a breakout sophomore campaign if he had gotten a chance to play. 2021 may be his opportunity.
Like Justin Garces, Natnael McDonald joined an historic college program during an historically bad season after playing for Atlanta United’s inaugural USL side. The 2019 Akron Zips were potentially the worst college soccer team last year and were potentially the worst team to have ever been assembled by that school. McDonald cannot be blamed for their poor performance since he did not appear in a single match. McDonald hopes to help the Zips get back to their winning ways in 2020 but this team still needs a lot of help.
Matthew Rios had a limited first season with Georgia State. With a lot of experienced competition on the roster, I do not expect Rios to dramatically increase his minutes from the 200 he accrued in 2019, but injuries can happen and with such a turbulent season ahead it might be possible for Rios to earn a larger role in the defensive rotation.
Dylan Gaither and Ousman Jabang return for their sophomore seasons at Mercer. Gaither will continue his role in the attacking midfield while Jabang will offer defensive cover in the midfield and play a rotational role as a defender. Gaither started 20 of Mercer’s 21 matches to log over 1300 minutes in his debut season to earn All-Southern Conference Freshman Team honors. While his 5 goals and 3 assists are respectable for a #10 in his rookie season, Gaither will hope to add to those numbers as an entrenched starter who will likely lead this Mercer side as the #10 for as long as he remains at the school. Jabang’s role with the team was less flashy but he did manage his own heroics with a goal in his debut match against Cincinnati and the winning goal against Belmont. Jabang was mostly a role-playing substitute in his first season and will likely continue that role in his sophomore campaign. Look for him to potentially fill the hole left by Kareve Richards’ departure after this season.
Last year, central midfielder Takuma Suzuki joined fellow academy alumni Machop Chol on a very good Wake Forest team. Wake Forest lost major pieces of their midfield triangle this past offseason through the draft with Alistair Johnson heading to Nashville SC and Joey DeZart heading to Orlando City, and with attacking midfielder Bruno Lapa signing with Birmingham Legion. Returning to the squad are Jamaican youth international Justin McMaster, Isaiah Parente, and senior Kyle McCurley. McCurley is both a defender and defensive midfielder and will likely remain Suzuki’s primary competition for minutes. Suzuki will hope to make himself invaluable to Coach Muuss as we head into a condensed ACC season. With the quality of coaching and development at Wake Forest, expect Suzuki to play the full four years before turning pro. Any of the Atlanta United scouts keeping an eye on Chol would do well to keep Suzuki and former academy teammate and Chattanooga product Omar Hernandez on their radar.
After an unsuccessful first season with UNC Charlotte, Omar Mustafic redshirted 2019 in order to transfer to Georgia Southern University. There he hopes to join his former teammates as they attempt to win the Sun Belt Conference. Mustafic has not played competitively since he left the academy in 2017 so it is highly unlikely he will get heavy minutes in his first season with the Eagles. Expect them to work him in slowly as a role player and gradually increase his minutes as he regains form and confidence.
Liam Butts had himself quite a freshman season: United Soccer Coaches All-North Region second-team honors, first-team All-Big Ten Conference, Big-Ten All-Freshman Team, and five game-winning goals (most in Big Ten Conference and 16th nationally) of his nine total goals. He did all of this in his first season. Butts is used to winning. Prior to attending Penn State, Butts won the 2016-2017 national title with Atlanta United’s U-17 academy team along with multiple state and regional titles with GSA 01 Phoenix. Liam is a big and technical forward with a decent burst of speed. The Lawrenceville native enters his sophomore season as the de facto starter at forward for the Nittany Lions and potentially one of the most dangerous attackers in the Big 10. Expect to hear a lot more about this young man since he will garner serious Generation Adidas interest soon enough.
James Brighton returns to Clemson as a redshirt sophomore in his third collegiate season. Brighton had a highly productive freshman campaign playing behind the first overall 2020 Superdraft Pick Robbie Robinson, scoring six goals and tallying 2 assists across 21 appearances and 11 starts. Brighton returns as Robin’s potential heir for Clemson and could see himself grow into a regular starter by his junior campaign. ACC competition is among some of the best in the nation so despite this season being limited to purely a intra-conference season for Clemson, Brighton should gain valuable experience against high-level opponents and some former teammates.
Jeremiah Luoma returns to Georgia Southern with something to prove. After playing in just four matches as a freshman, Luoma hopes to expand his role with the Eagles in his second season and eventually succeed his former academy brethren as a regular starter in his junior season. This may be a pivotal year for the young midfielder to prove he can be a regular contributor to this team.
This freshman class has plenty of storylines. We have redshirts, sem-pros, and Atlanta United 2 regulars. Expect to see some early contributors from this group along with some redshirts.
Brant Zulauf enters his second season with Mercer as the #2 goalkeeper on the squad behind redshirt senior JR Derose. Zulauf redshirted his first season with the Bears and will look to get back on the pitch for the first time since 2018.
Another in-state redshirt freshman, Sai Brown, seeks to move up the goalkeeper depth chart at Georgia Southern. Standing at just 5-9, Brown is a little small for a goalkeeper so he will likely start the season as either the 3rd or 4th goalkeeper on the squad.
Garrison Tubbs enters his freshman year at Wake Forest with another USL season under his belt. Tubbs has served as the centerback partner for Atlanta United 2’s captain Mo Jadama for the 2020 campaign. Tubbs’ performances lack some of the cleanliness and smoothness of some of his peers but there is plenty to like about his game and his ability to play out of the back.
Wake Forest’s Coach Muuss seems to see Tubbs as a project defender with a lot of potential:
“I can’t wait to get Garrison to Wake Forest and begin to work with him. Garrison is a player that our staff was excited about the moment they saw him play. He brings an athletic quality to the game that you cannot teach and his ambition to succeed at the highest levels in the classroom make him a natural fit for Wake Forest. Garrison continues to impress me each time I see him with his progress in developing his technical and tactical understanding of the game.”
Tubbs will likely begin the season behind senior defenders Michael DeShields and Justyn Thomas and will likely compete with with his eventual defensive partner NYCFC product Nico Benalcazar for minutes in 2020.
Jordan Matthews heads to a University of South Carolina program that may or may not outlive the tenure of their head coach. It remains to be seen if the financial pressures of the pandemic and the upcoming retirement of longtime head coach Mark Berson will lead to there being a Gamecocks men’s soccer program in 2021. For now, Matthews can try to make the most of his opportunity and potentially redshirt or try his luck in the USL if the future of this program truly is in jeopardy. Jordan was one of the three prospects who attended a two-week training stint last winter with our development partner Aberdeen FC. The official club site did a nice write-up on him so let’s use their words:
Matthews, a 17-year-old left back, joined Atlanta United Academy ahead of the 2017-18 season. This year, Matthews has made nine appearances with seven starts for the U-19s. He made 26 appearances with 19 starts, including three goals, for the U17s during the 2018-19 season. He also made two appearances and one start for ATL UTD 2 during the 2019 USL season, making his debut against Charlotte Independence on July 24. Matthews is committed to the University of South Carolina.
Alex Bahr joins Georgia State after playing for two years with Atlanta SC of the NPSL alongside former Atlanta United prospect Jeffrey Otoo. Bahr, born in 2001, comes in as one of the older freshman and may compete for minutes as a rotational defensive player in 2020. Bahr played as a youth international for Honduras and is part of a larger Honduran soccer family. His father, Alex, played professional soccer in Honduras and Mexico and for the Atlanta Silverbacks in 1999-2000, and his sister Elexa is currently a star senior for the University of South Carolina and would be a fun hometown addition to Atlanta’s NWSL whenever they choose to announce that.
Anthony Reaves heads to the Ivy League to join Cornell. It appears that Anthony will be redshirting his freshman season since he is not listed on their 2020-2021 roster. This is probably for the best to allow the young lanky defender a chance to put on some muscle ahead of his first season. Reaves is one of the fastest players from his group of academy players and most of the pictures you can find of him involves some kind of friendly footrace against his teammates.
Mbongeni Kanyane will join the Dayton Flyers of the Atlantic 10 Conference. This conference will play their fall sports in the spring season so Kanyane will have a few months to wait before he can make his collegiate debut. His coach seems to expect the young left back to contribute early and often for his side, saying:
”He is one of the best left backs coming out of the 2020 class and we believe he will thrive in our system at Dayton. His power and athleticism allows him to threaten opponents from a peripheral position. He is able to break lines on the dribble as well as his excellent passing range. We feel he can make an immediate impact from day one and also has the attributes to be a great leader in the future.”
That’s a good sign for the young South African defender. Atlanta United are certainly keeping an eye on this young player. Annan, Eales and company may have played a little bit of 6-dimensional chess to acquire his rights as he has only played on match for the Atlanta United academy and yet is ours for Discovery Rights purposes if he grows into the potential talent that fits his current projections.
Chase Oliver will be joining fellow Atlanta United alums Machop Chol, Omar Hernandez, Takuma Suzuki, and fellow U-18/19 player Garrison Tubbs at ACC powerhouse Wake Forest University in the fall with plenty of chances to hoist more trophies with this perennial NCAA tournament attendee.
Wake Forest’s coach Muuss brims with excitement when discussing his new midfielder:
“Chase is a versatile attacking player who can fit into several different positions in our system. He’s an exciting player who enjoys taking players on, creates chances with his work rate, and always puts himself and others in good positions to create scoring opportunities. Chase is a competitive young man on and off the field, which I am ecstatic to have coming in this fall.”
Oliver has split his time between the Atlanta United academy and the Concorde Fire academy, beginning with the AU U-14’s and representing both Atlanta-area clubs for his age 15-19 levels. He was among the first players signed to the academy, coming from the Southern Soccer Association. He nearly cracked the Top 100 prospects in the nation for this class and was named to the Best IX in his team’s national runners up performance last year.
Daniel Mangarov will be joining the Southern Conference Champions at UNC Greensboro next year and will attempt to continue building his repertoire. Danny has some international pedigree, even traveling with Atlanta Homegrown, George Bello, to the USMNT U-17s Nike International Friendlies camp in 2017. Starting with Georgia United’s U-13s in 2015, Danny followed Tony Annan to the AU Academy in 2016 and has played every age level up to the U-19s. He is an attack-minded midfielder who takes it to the opposition.
Remi Smith will be joining Natnael McDonald with the Akron Zips where he will try to inject some danger into their attacking midfield to help revive this historic collegiate club in 2021 after his redshirt season.
“The soccer program was good and I felt like to school fit me well,” Smith said. “I liked the atmosphere around the team. I got the feeling that the players and the coaches were very close and had good relationships.”
Remi is one of the older freshmen of this group, born in 2001. He is a quick midfielder who has regularly featured for Annan’s sides since he was a U-13 player with Georgia United in 2015.
Tavon Mussenden was a new arrival with Atlanta United, having spend most of his development with Weston FC in Florida. He has played mostly in the midfield for Atlanta United, and that’s honestly about as much as I know about the player. Best of luck to him in his return to Florida with Florida International University.
Miguel Gonzalez heads to Georgia Gwinnet College this fall in the NAIA. Atlanta United 2 player Jack Gurr and former academy player Adeola Oke both played for the Grizzlies.
Brandon Clagette will be joining fellow academy alum Bryce Washington with the University of Pittsburgh. Brandon has been with the Atlanta since the beginning. The Douglasville native first featured for the club with the U-14s for the 2016-2017 season and has played mostly as a forward in the academy. In 2019, he made his first appearance for Atlanta United 2 in the USL and ended up playing in 4 matches throughout the season. Clagette featured up and down the right side playing two matches at RB, one at RM, and one at RW. The team seems to see some real talent in him as a right-sided player and wanted to find a good fit for him to build toward a professional career. Playing in the ACC will be a great step in that direction.
“Ever since I was little, I always saw Duke as the best school both in academics and athletics,” Ramirez said. “Even if I don’t achieve my goal of playing professionally, a degree from Duke is something that will be with me all through my life, opening doors and various careers.”
Miguel took a roundabout way of getting to Atlanta United. He began his academy development with Tony Annan’s Georgia United U-14’s in 2016. Rather than moving to Atlanta United like many of his teammates, Miguel moved to Concorde Fire where he led the 2018 Concorde Fire U-17’s to the USSDA finals with a 22-goal campaign. In his only season with Atlanta United, he impressed with 4 goals in 8 appearances, included a hat trick in his debut against North Carolina FC.
Michael Wilkerson heads out west to join the University of San Diego Toros for the 2020 season. Wilkerson is originally from Asheville, North Carolina and played sparingly for the U-18/19 academy team during the 2019-2020 season. San Diego’s coach, Brian Quinn thinks very highly of Wilkerson, saying:
”Could be the player we need to change games. Michael came on the scene late in our recruiting process but has been involved with one of the best programs in the U.S. (Atlanta United) and more importantly scores goals and has the hunger to be an impact player immediately.”
Here is a list of other players who were at one time affiliated with Atlanta United but did not graduate with the academy or only spent a short time with the academy. This is a growing list as more players are identified as being former members of the academy. If you know of a player that is missing then please let us know in the comments.