This past Wednesday was National Signing Day, a day college sports fans across the nation look forward to as their first chance to see the future of their favorite school’s athletic programs. In the world of American soccer, Signing Day doesn’t have quite the same ceremony and fanfare behind it as in college football, for example, but for the players involved, it’s a chance to celebrate the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice, as well as look forward to a bright future.
Ten players from Atlanta United’s U19’s made their college futures official on Wednesday, each signing with a Division I school to continue their soccer and academic careers. Each of them will have a chance to return to the club in the future, either as a homegrown player or with ATL UTD 2 in USL. There’s also nothing stopping the club from signing these players professionally before they make it to campus in August, just as they did last June with Furman-signee Lagos Kunga. With all that in mind, we’re here to quickly profile each of the ten commits and how they might fit at their respective schools.
Charlie Asensio - Clemson
Ranked 29th in the country for the class of 2018 by TopDrawerSoccer, Charlie Asensio joins the Tigers as arguably the prized gem of their recruiting class. Asensio is a jack of all trades who has split time for the U19’s and the US National Team at defensive midfield and fullback. Clemson are one of the perennial powers of college soccer and are returning 3 starters on the back line, but Asensio certainly possesses the ability to compete for a starting role from day one.
James Brighton - Clemson
Joining Asensio at Clemson is James Brighton, the U19’s starting striker and the 67th-ranked recruit in the nation. Brighton is a big, physical number 9 with 33 goals and counting in two seasons with the Five Stripes. Clemson graduated their top 3 goalscorers from the 2017 season, and with Brighton’s scoring prowess, head coach Mike Noonan could turn to the South Carolina-native to help replace that production in 2018.
Will Crain - Brown
Will Crain heads north to the Ivy League, joining the program that counts both Darren Eales and Jeff Larentowicz among its alumni. Crain captains the U19’s playing both center-back and left back, and also wore the armband for last season’s U16 national champions. The Bears are a proud program with 20 Ivy League titles in their history, and Crain will look to help Brown return to those heights.
Justin Garces - UCLA
Justin Garces sprung arguably Signing Day’s biggest surprise with a commitment to UCLA, giving the Bruins the nation’s best recruiting class. The class of 2018’s top-ranked goalkeeper joins one of college soccer’s royalty programs, with a laundry list of famous alumni including Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra. UCLA’s two-year starter in net recently transferred out of the program, so Garces should have a great opportunity to start from day one in Westwood, CA.
Dawson Gideon - Mercer
The back-to-back Southern Conference champions pick up their second Atlanta United academy player in two years in winger Dawson Gideon. Gideon is second in scoring on the U19’s with eight goals despite being primarily used off the bench this season. Academy alumni Kareve Richards started 21 games for the Bears a year ago en route to earning SoCon All-Freshman honors, and Gideon will be hoping to have a similar impact in Macon next season.
Omar Mustafic - Charlotte
Omar Mustafic will head to the Queen City in 2018, joining the Charlotte 49ers. Primarily playing as a box-to-box midfielder, Mustafic has been used mostly as a depth piece with the U19’s since joining the club last summer from Concorde Fire. Charlotte are coming off of a season which saw them miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010, but Mustafic can hopefully be apart of returning the 49ers back to the top of Conference USA.
Victor Pereyra-Zavala - Georgia State
Atlanta’s college soccer team signs its first recruit from Atlanta’s pro soccer team in Victor Pereyra-Zavala. Pereyra-Zavala is the quiet yet efficient midfield engine behind the U19’s and one of only two returning starters from last season’s U18’s, which finished the DA season as the #1 team in the nation. Georgia State have lost 3 straight Sun Belt tournament finals, but are clearly making progress as a program. If he can adjust to the more-physical college game, Pereyra-Zavala has the talent to help the Panthers finally get over the hump.
Kashay Sahlu - Coastal Carolina
The team that has beaten Georgia State for the last two Sun Belt titles also added an Atlanta United academy midfielder on Wednesday, with Kashay Sahlu signing for the Chanticleers. The youngster from Eritrea has been an important addition to the U19’s since joining from Kalonji Soccer Academy last summer. Coastal Carolina graduated several key contributors in 2017, so Sahlu has a chance to make an impact from year one in Conway, SC.
Russell Shealy - Maryland
The Maryland Terrapins have arguably the greatest pedigree of any college program in the country, and goalkeeper Russell Shealy is set to join their ranks this fall. The 97th-ranked national recruit has started 34 matches for the academy since last summer and has developed a real reputation for his shot-stopping ability in the process. Shealy will be stuck into a competitive battle for playing time in goal for the Terps, who already have 3 underclassman keepers on their roster.
Blake White - UAB
Last but not least on our Signing Day coverage is attacking midfielder and Jamaican youth international Blake White. White is also in his second season with the academy and has proven to be a potent force in both setting up and finishing off attacking moves. There’s some question as to what his best position is going forward, but White should be a helpful addition to a Blazers roster that struggled in Conference USA in 2017.