Welcome to Dirty South Soccer’s Atlanta United Prospects Season Preview, a 3-part series that will touch on all of the teams and players that fans should be paying attention to within the club’s developmental system. Parts two and three will focus on the academy, but with the college season right around the corner and teams already well into their preseasons, today’s focus will be on the academy alumni entering their freshman seasons around the country. These players can be offered a homegrown deal at any point of their NCAA careers, so we’re here to profile each of them and how they fit in at their respective schools this season.
Machop Chol may be the most exciting player on this list from an Atlanta United standpoint. The Sudanese-born winger was a key part of the U18’s success last season, contributing twelve goals in 31 games and effortlessly ghosting past defenders with his pace and power. Under coach Bobby Muuss, Wake has had tons of success and has developed a reputation for playing some of the nation’s prettiest soccer in the process. Despite losing the national title on penalty kicks, the 2nd-ranked Deacons are returning plenty of talent from last season and have added an absolutely loaded recruiting class. Early playing time may be hard to come by on such a deep roster, but regardless, Wake feels like a great fit for Chol to develop both the technical and physical aspects of his already impressive repertoire.
Cortes is one of two Five Stripes alumni heading to Statesboro this fall. Coach John Murphy is in his second year in charge at Southern, and his Eagles feel like a favorite to mount a serious challenge for the Sun Belt title this season. Before joining Atlanta United, Cortes was one of the most prolific attackers in Georgia High School history with 108 goals and 59 assists in 3 seasons for the Cairo Syrupmakers; it was that production which initially drew the eyes of D1 coaches. With the attacking talent on the U18’s last season, he was mostly used as a fullback, showing his versatility and willingness to sacrifice for the team. Cortes will be moved back into the midfield for the Eagles this season and should get plenty of chances to contribute.
Clemson only pulled in one nationally-ranked recruit in 2017, and that was Atlanta United’s Mike Ille. The former Concorde Fire standout will look to build off of his fine season with the U18’s, which included twelve goals and call-ups to first team preseason training and the U19 US National Team. The 5th-ranked Tigers are a usual suspect in the NCAA national title picture, and Ille is the first of a developing pipeline between the school and Atlanta United, with two more academy stars committed for 2018. Ille is already showing coach Mike Noonan what he can bring to the table, putting 3 shots on goal in a 40-minute spell off the bench in a 3-0 win over UAB.
Furman’s 2017 took a hit before it even started when Lagos Kunga, their most exciting commitment in several years, signed a homegrown contract with Atlanta United in June. Still, the Paladins are chugging onward into the new year with another United academy product in tow: Kevin Lingard. In an interview with TopDrawerSoccer in April, Lingard cited Furman’s history of producing high-level professionals (this man comes to mind) and the coaching staff’s belief in his ability as reasons why he chose the program. Like many others on this list, Lingard made a name for himself before ever joining the club when he captained Parkview High School to a state championship in 2016. His one academy season was dogged by injuries which saw him only make eight appearances for the U18’s, but when healthy, he’s an excellent midfield catalyst for any team.
Morton heads to the Ivy League after playing primarily as the U18’s backup keeper, appearing in eleven matches last season. The 18-year old was the starter and team captain for Georgia United’s U16 team that reached the DA semifinals back in 2015, and was once again handed the armband for their U18 team the following year. The Tigers, whose alumni include current MLS coaches Bob Bradley and Jesse Marsch, are looking to rebound after finishing mid-table in the Ivy League a year ago. Morton is one of four goalkeepers on the roster and only one of the four has any game experience, so playing time in net could be up for grabs this season.
Mercer have recently established themselves as Georgia’s top men’s soccer program and will defend their Southern Conference championship with the help of Kareve Richards. Richards was a regular starter at right back for the U18’s a season ago, while also filling in at center back. With the U18’s, he often got involved into the attack and picked up a few assists from crosses, and it’s that ability that has the Bears considering a midfield role for the freshman. After suffering a broken collarbone in June’s DA playoffs, it was questionable whether Richards would be healthy for the season opener, but after making an appearance off the bench Monday in a 1-1 draw with Belmont, all seems well ahead of the Bears’ fall schedule.
Joining the aforementioned Cortes in Statesboro is Alhaji Tambadu, the defensive midfielder from last year’s U18’s. Tambadu is a classic number 6, capable of setting a team’s attacking tempo while also disrupting the tempo of the opponents. At 5’9”, he’s a bit undersized compared to others who play that role, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to playing against older, more physical opponents. Despite that, there are few who use their body better than Tambadu, and he’s an impressive player technically as well. Like Cortes, Tambadu will have an immediate role this season for coach Murphy’s side and could be a vital piece of the Southern midfield this fall.
Few players were more important to the U18’s success than Bryce Washington, who started 30 matches throughout last season. The center back is a strong, athletic defender who can out-jump anyone for a header, and he improved his game noticeably in his one season with the Five Stripes. Rutgers had a very rough 2016 which saw the Scarlet Knights win only one game all season, and there will be a lot riding on the new recruiting class to help steady the ship. Washington was the only Rutgers player to play a full 90 minutes in Sunday’s 1-0 exhibition win against Connecticut, so clearly he’ll be relied upon heavily in the Big Ten this fall.
Join us next week for part two, where we’ll be looking at the younger age groups in the Atlanta United academy.