After a highly successful 2017 debut season in MLS, the minds behind the scenes at Atlanta United are well-versed in how to start a soccer team from scratch. This is a good thing, since they have to do it again in 2018. Atlanta United’s USL affiliate will be kicking off for the first time next March, playing its home games out of Coolray Field up in Lawrenceville. More details, such as names, colors and kits, are all still to come.
As a reserve squad, one of the main functions of the new Gwinnett team will be to give fringe first-teamers, particularly younger players, the playing time that they wouldn’t be getting with Atlanta. Fans have already hypothesized several names that could fall into this category, including all five of the club’s homegrown players. But this team can’t survive solely on players from the first team, and will need to have a roster of their own. So, we’ve tried to take a stab at some of the players who could fill out that roster.
These players may end up in Gwinnett in 2018, or they may be completely off of the club’s radar. Perhaps more than anything, they represent good options from different sources of players that this team’s signings may come from. Without further to do, let’s get into it.
Laurent Kissiedou - Midfielder, Atlanta United/Charleston Battery
Perhaps the first concrete indication that an Atlanta United USL team was coming soon was when Laurent Kissiedou started showing up on the Charleston Battery’s bench back in August. Kissiedou is an attacking midfielder who spent the first 6 months of 2017 with Atlanta United’s U18 team, where he scored 7 goals in 19 matches and turned the heads of scouts at the Development Academy Playoffs. When he didn’t sign for a college team and resurfaced with the Battery, where he appeared off the bench once, it became clear he was in Atlanta United’s long-term plans.
Kissiedou is perhaps the closest thing to a number 10 to come out of the academy so far. The 19-year old is very skilled with the ball at his feet and does not need much space around him to affect the game and create for others. As a native of Ivory Coast, it’s unclear whether or not Kissiedou would be considered an international in USL, but regardless, he seems like a decent bet to be apart of this team in 2018.
Justin Garces - Goalkeeper, Atlanta United U19
Academy director Tony Annan recently hinted at the plans for integrating the USL team with Atlanta United’s academy, saying that around 5-6 current academy players will be heavily involved in Gwinnett. Of everyone in the academy, Justin Garces is probably the most likely to be apart of that group.
Of course, Garces has been making a name for himself long before his Atlanta United days. With Miami-based youth club Kendall SC and the US Youth National Team, Garces has become widely considered one of the best young American goalkeeping prospects in some time. Perhaps most attractive to Atlanta United and Tata Martino about him is his ability with his feet, which is important to the club’s style of building from the back. With no college commitment in the frame, a professional debut is the next big goal for Garces, and there’s a good chance it happens in Gwinnett.
Charlie Asensio - Midfielder, Atlanta United U19
Fans who followed the academy’s U16 national championship run last summer will have a fond memory of Charlie Asensio. The Roswell-native controlled entire games from his defensive midfield role throughout the playoffs, and despite narrowly missing out on the United States’ U17 World Cup roster, he’s continued his good midfield play with the U19 team this fall.
Asensio is a complete player who can also play across the back four in addition to the number 6. He reads the game very well, is comfortable in possession and has a great passing range. He was also among seven academy players invited to the first-team’s preseason training camp last January, so Tata is familiar with his game. Asensio is committed to Clemson, and after graduating a lot of key contributors this fall, the Tigers will be hoping their prized recruit will be on campus come August. Even if Asensio doesn’t sign a professional USL deal, he could still log USL minutes on an academy amateur contract before he goes to college.
Frantzdy Pierrot - Forward, Coastal Carolina University
After a flurry of recent trades, Atlanta United actually have 3 picks in the first two rounds of this year’s MLS SuperDraft. Barring some exceptions, drafted players generally do not come into MLS with a guaranteed contract, and the first team roster is filling up quickly. USL could be a good landing spot for a high-upside college player who’s not quite ready to contribute in MLS, and Frantzdy Pierrot fits that bill.
Pierrot has had a monster 2017 which saw him lead Coastal Carolina to a second-straight Sun Belt title while becoming the conference’s player of the year. He also scored 8 goals in 8 games for PDL powerhouse Reading United over the summer and earned a call-up to the Haitian National Team in March. At 6’4”, he’s a big, physical striker who’s good in the air, and he only turns 21 in January, which is remarkably young for a college senior. There’s a good chance Pierrot will be available to Atlanta United when they come up in the SuperDraft, and there’s a whole lot to like about his pro potential.
Modou Jadama - Defender, Tulsa Roughnecks
Modou Jadama is the only current USL player on this list, and admittedly, the reasons why are a bit sentimental. Jadama is a local product who arrived in the Atlanta area as an immigrant from Gambia before starring with Norcross Fury SC and Milton High School. He joined Chilean giants Colo-Colo as a teenager, but, due to restrictions on international players in the Chilean league, saw little playing time before returning to the US with the Roughnecks in 2017.
At just 23 years old, Jadama is coming off a season where he logged nearly 3,000 minutes at center back for a playoff team. As a former midfielder, he’s shown his ability and comfort with the ball, and his 4 assists in 2017 shows he’s able to make an attacking impact. Based off of that production, it may be difficult to pry Jadama away from Tulsa; however, MLS reserve teams are a great avenue for lower-division players to earn a shot at the next level. Jadama could be exactly the type of player to benefit from that opportunity in his hometown.