This has been a weird year for college soccer.
Even before the pandemic disrupted college sports (and the rest of life as we know it), the NCAA planned on revolutionizing their competition format for men’s soccer. No longer would men’s soccer exist as a chaotic and cramped sprint to the end of the Fall semester. No longer would development of soccer players consist just of late summer camps and the occasional spring tournament for top teams. The NCAA would expand its competition calendar to the Spring semester. Competition would take place over a two-semester season emphasizing quality training and matches for collegiate athletes in order to keep up with the demands of the professional game.
That all sounds like a great plan that could bring a wacky American dinosaur closer to the modern international game, but in 2020, the potential roll-out season, things did not go as planned.
With one week to go in the Fall season, only a handful of the nation’s conferences are in competition, a bevy of historic programs like Cincinnati have folded or are in limbo, and a smattering of maverick athletic directors have their schools going it alone against mostly Atlantic Coast Conference, Sun Belt Conference, and Southern Conference teams. Alumni of Atlanta United’s Academy fall on both camps of this intercollegiate debate over whether to compete or wait until Spring.
Of the teams that have decided to play, Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke, Pittsburgh, NC State, Kentucky, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Mercer, and University of Alabama-Birmingham all feature Atlanta United Alumni. Amazingly, there are more teams with Five Stripes connections than not this season.
At this point, we generally know which of the ACC powerhouses are contenders and which simply are not. We know which of the mid-majors may make a run at these larger teams and which simply cannot keep up with their peers, let alone the powerhouses. It is at this point when player rankings lists begin to matter as nearly a full-season of data, especially in a hyper-competitive ACC season, bring out the best in some players to show who has a chance of playing at the next level.
Luckily for Atlanta United, there are six such players getting that kind of attention from Soccerwire, most of whom feature prominently for the top-3 teams currently competing. If you feel like checking our preseason predictions for these players, feel free to follow this link. Here, we will go through the six players in order of ranking. To catch these players in action, the ACC Conference tournament will air on ESPN+ on November 15, 18, and 22.
#3 Bryce Washington
CB - University of Pittsburgh
Coming in at the top of our list is Bryce Washington. Washington is a big part of an ascendant Pitt Panthers men’s program loaded with veteran talent. After anchoring the defense of Atlanta United’s 2016 league leading U-18 team, Washington went on to win all-conference honors in his first season with Rutgers. In his Junior season, he thrust himself into the Pitt defensive rotation immediately after his transfer and helped Pitt reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in a while. Now in his senior season, Washington is the veteran anchor of a formidable Pitt back line that has let in a high but manageable 1.60 goals per match against top competition. When the team is scoring at a 3.40 goal per match pace, that 1.60 looks a lot better. For comparison, Atlanta United currently has an allowed goal rate of 1.16 but their goal scored rate is a measly 0.90.
Standing at 6’2”, Washington possesses the same physical frame as Miles Robinson and serves in a very similar role. You can generally expect Washington to be a marathon man, playing nearly every minute in each of his two seasons with Pitt. While Washington does not offer a lot on the offensive side of the ball, he can occasionally sneak a goal past a keeper on a set piece a couple of times or more per season.
Washington brings value is in his athleticism and his understanding of the defensive side of the match. Washington is the last man back as waves of Pitt players move forward in their potent attack. That is a large responsibility for any player and Washington is certainly up to the task.
As one of the two seniors on this list, I expect Atlanta United to take a long look at their former player. The team still holds his homegrown rights so they could sign him before the Superdraft. Washington is a player who could benefit from getting consistent playing time in a professional league. He would be a good candidate to loan to our partners in Aberdeen or to serve as the veteran leader of a defensive unit with the 2’s featuring fellow Homegrown players Efrain Morales and George Campbell.
#10 Machop Chol
W - Wake Forest
Our other senior on this list is the tall and lanky Sudanese-American with a fantastic Pokemon name, Machop Chol. We at DirtySouthSoccer love this guy and the team seems to love him, too. Along with being a great character and personality with a fantastic story, Chol has had a rapid rise from the lanky young man joining Tony Annan’s 2016 U-18 squad to an attacking leader for one of the best collegiate sides in the country.
Our next senior is forward @CholMachop:— Wake Men's Soccer (@WakeMSoccer) October 30, 2020
Played nearly 3,000 minutes for @WakeForest
40 career starts entering tonight with 41 points
‘19 Third-Team All-South Region selection
Graduating with a degree in Communications pic.twitter.com/KEyKdvqlb5
Chol brings excellent speed and movement for his size. Though he is still a very lanky 6’2”, Chol can beat you in the air and with the ball at his feet, proving wicked service from the wings to Wake Forest’s target forwards and late runs from midfield. Chol was very much a raw prospect coming out of the academy and was the kind of player who needed this kind of quality development from an experienced and talented college program to help him realize his athletic gifts while learning the mental and technical side of the game. While Chol still has room for development, he has the potential to be a solid reserve and a late game changer within the right system. If you want a good example of the kind of player Chol can be, look no further to Atlanta United 2’s Amadou Mackey Diop with the way he used his size, speed, and touch to be a dynamic force in an athletic attack.
As a senior, Atlanta United must make a choice as to whether to offer Chol a contract. He will likely be in the draft and will likely be an early pick if available as one of the more attractive seniors available. Like Washington, Chol has earned the attention of his former club.
#24 Charlie Asensio
LB - Clemson University
Charlie Asensio is a crafty and agile fullback leading a Clemson team that is a constant threat to win the NCAA tournament each and every season. Charlie hit the ground running (literally) with the Tigers in his freshman year in 2018, starting 16 of the 17 matches he played on his way to being honored as a member of the ACC All-Freshman team. Asensio when on to feature prominently for Clemson helping the team to 10 shutouts in 22 matches in his second season and tallying his 45th cap in his Junior campaign. Asensio attributes his early success to his time with Atlanta United where he was part of a select few players who got to train with the first team.
Asensio plays a hybrid defensive role for Clemson featuring on the left half of the four-man backline. Despite his smaller size at just 5’9”, he has the athleticism and intelligence to effectively position himself to take away the size disadvantage. Asensio also has the speed and touch to play leftback, which will likely be his main position going forward.
Charlie will likely return to Clemson for his senior season and will become a coveted senior for many domestic professional squads due to his experience with the USA U-17 Residency Program, Atlanta United’s academy, and a top-tier college program. Look for him to immediately become a leader for a USL-Championship team or a reserve for an MLS squad in two years.
#26 Takuma Suzuki
DM - Wake Forest
For background on this talented sophomore midfielder, look no further than DSS writer Kyle Soto’s profile of Suzuki from this summer.
Entering his second season, Suzuki demonstrated his desire to win one of the vacancies in the Demon Deacons’ midfield following a prolific class of seniors and prospects leaving for MLS and USL. Wake Forest primarily plays with a three-man midfield so the defensive holding midfielder is a crucial cog in Coach Bobby Muuss’s system. This #6 must be able to cycle the ball alongside the box-to-box central midfielder and provide cover for a defensive unit that often bombs its fullbacks forward. The #6 will not get a lot of glory in this system and often only shows up in the highlight reels for flashes of brilliance or major gaffs, so for players like Suzuki, invisibility is a positive. But even so, he can thread a beautiful ball like this.
Suzuki is part of a growing contingent of 5-Stripes alumni playing for Coach Muuss’s juggernaut of a program. His academy teammate Garrison Tubbs has already earned a starting spot on the backline in his freshman season and fellow freshman Chase Oliver has come up with a couple of highlight moments for himself in a handful of cameos. Freshman get opportunities at Wake Forest but they have to earn them and they have to keep earning them. Suzuki did and continues to do just that.
Takuma Suzuki is a very interesting case. As a sophomore he could, in theory, be eligible for a Generation Adidas contract that would place him in the Superdraft as an underclassman. Suzuki plays a position of need for Atlanta United as a defensive midfielder, since that position lacks a clear starter and the approaching retirement of veteran Jeff Larentowicz will leaving an even larger gaping hole at the position. Current academy prospect Will Reilly plays a version of that position similar to what Michael Bradley plays for Toronto and has historically played for the national team. He is a deep-lying distributor who drops between the central defenders to help with playing out of the back. Suzuki can play that position, too, but his role that he plays at Wake Forest is more similar to the roving and active defensive midfielder we saw in Carlos Carmona. I’m not comparing Suzuki to Carmona but they fulfilled a similar role. Basically, Suzuki is a player to keep an eye on and luckily for him and for the rest of us, he plays on a high profile team loaded with Atlanta United alumni.
#35 Logan Luque
Wingback - Georgia State
Logan Luque is one of 8 players from Georgia State to make the top-50 players from the fall season. As a mid-major program competing in the Sun Belt Conference, most people would not associate this Atlanta-based university with being a soccer power but through shrewd recruiting of top Southeastern talent and UK-based players, Georgia State has quickly developed their program into one for the larger conferences to take into account.
Luque played for Atlanta United’s U-16 team in the 2016-2017 season so he technically is not an alumni of the program, but he is one that we can claim nonetheless. Luque lines up on the right side of a midfield that also features academy alumni Clay Dawes and Victor Pereya-Zevala. Luque’s role shifts from Right Midfielder to Right Wingback depending upon the formation since GSU has a glut of talented and experienced central defenders.
Now in this third year, Luque has seen his minutes increase each season. In college soccer, substitution rules are still fluid with players being able to leave and return to the pitch throughout the match and with the depth GSU has to play with, their main strategy seems to be to overwhelm their opponents with a flood of talent rotated to maintain intensity over the full 90 minutes. Due to this team philosophy, Lugue has only totaled over 70 minutes twice over nine matches this season. This may change if there is a tournament this fall, but that is not completely certain.
Luque is a player who probably needs a senior season. He is a talented player on an ascendent side so it will be very much in his interests to try to continue developing on a team that will get increasing media attention over the coming 12-18 months. I could see him playing for the 2’s after his senior season but there is a chance he could receive a better offer from another USL Championship team.
#47 Matthew Rios
CB/LB - Georgia State
To be honest, Matthew Rios is a big of a surprise to make this list. That is not a knock on his abilities, it is more of a testament to the competition the sophomore defender has to face to get playing time on a deep Georgia State defensive back line that includes freshman phenom Alex Henderson and George Proctor who both rank in the top-15 of this list.
Rios mostly features as the left centerback in a three-man line. Though he has only featured in five matches in 2020, he has gone the full 90 in both of his two starts against University of Alabama-Birmingham and Georgia Southern. Rios will continue to compete and will seek to earn a larger role in the defensive rotation for GSU in his Junior and Senior seasons alongside fellow Atlanta United alumni Alex Bahr.
To watch Rios, Luque, and the other Atlanta United alumni playing for GSU, the Sun Belt Conference Playoffs will air on November 11 and 15 on ESPN+.