This week we take a look at Atlanta United’s alumni competing in the Fall season who were part of the academy classes of 2017 and 2018. Like we discussed last week, only the ACC, Sun Belt, and a handful of independent teams decided to compete, so we will not be discussing William Crain (Brown University), Justin Garces (UCLA), Sam Morton (Princeton University), Nicolas Perez (Brown University), or Berk Watson (University of San Diego) since they have yet to compete in their seasons.
Instead, we will focus on another small group of players from Clemson, Georgia State, Mercer, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The headliner of this class of Juniors is Clemson’s dependable left back, Charlie Asensio. Asensio is a quick and experienced fullback who just helped lead Clemson to the 2020 ACC Championship. Asensio started all ten matches for the Tigers and used his athleticism and intelligence to effectively position himself to take away opportunities for opposing sides on his flank while playing key passes to spring the Clemson counter attack. Asensio’s solid Junior ACC campaign earned him a #24 overall ranking by Soccerwire among Fall season players.
Charlie has played an integral role for the Tigers beginning with his freshman year in 2018. He starting 16 of the 17 matches he played on his way to being honored as a member of the ACC All-Freshman team. Asensio went 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.
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. Charlie’s floor is a Mikey Ambrose kind of contributor for an MLS team or a Jack Metcalf leader for a USL Championship team but he is capable of growing into more. Look for him to continue filling a valuable leadership role for wherever he plays next.
Clay Dawes began his Junior season at Georgia State with something to prove. After accumulating over 700 minutes over 14 matches in his freshman season, Dawes missed the entirety of 2019 due to injury.
While training during the summer lockdown, Dawes shared his thoughts about the upcoming season to Georgia State’s athletics blog:
“This season is going to be a big one for us both on and off the field,” said Dawes. “Off the field this past year we put almost every player on academic honor roll and that is something we take great pride in so replicating and trying to beat that will be a good challenge for all of us.
“On the field we have another final to get to. The team last year had many setbacks, individually through injury and collectively as one team, but we focused on the principles our team put into place at the beginning of the year and made it further than many expected us to. For this upcoming season it would be much of the same, we will have a strong core of upperclassmen and a lot of promising young guys that will play big roles to help us not only hopefully regain the Sun Belt title but also put our stamp in the NCAA tournament as well.”
With an impressive group of defenders, Georgia State’s Coach Brett Surrency moved Dawes to the defensive midfield. Across his six matches played, Georgia State went 5-1 with a combined scoring of 13-3. That is pure dominance of their regional competition.
Unfortunately for Dawes, the Panthers fell just short of the championship, losing to Coastal Carolina in the finals.
Another key contributor for Georgia State is Victor Pereya-Zevala. Pereya-Zevala generally starts as part of the attacking four or five players for the Panthers and often ends up in wide areas on the right to use his speed and creativity to produce opportunities for his teammates. He was part of the first group of academy players to feature for the 2’s in their inaugural season and has since translated that brief professional experience to his work rate in college.
This season, he appeared in seven matches (starting five) and played 309 minutes across all matches. Like Clayton Dawes, he went unused in the postseason with the October 13th match against University of Alabama-Birmingham marking the end of his season. Statistically, this was a brutal season for Pereya-Zevala, with no goals or assists and only three shots attempted from the right winger spot. He will likely enter his senior season seeking to make a greater impact for Georgia State and to regain valuable minutes that he last as the season progressed.
Blake White’s fall exhibition season lacked the flair and excitement of his previous two years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. White came into the season as an exciting attacking midfielder who was seen as a bright spot for this Conference USA team. In 2019 he led his team in goals and shots on goal for UAB while also augmenting his development outside of the collegiate circuit with the Georgia Revolution in the NPSL. He looked set for a breakout junior campaign.
That breakout may still happen in the Spring but the coaching staff seemed determined to use White sparingly in otherwise meaningless matches. White featured in four of the six exhibition matches in the fall, averaging a little under 45 minutes of play in each match. He tallied just five shots with no goals and no assists. It does not seem fair to judge him on what on preseason play so we will hold off judgement until play resumes in February.
For Dawson Gideon and Mike Ille, Mercer’s Fall exhibition season was likely one to forget. The Mercer Bears went 1-4 in their mostly-in-state series of matches that drew two losses to Georgia State and a commanding win against Georgia Southern.
Gideon featured heavily for a Mercer team with a lot of familiar Atlanta United academy names up and down its roster. He played out wide and as a second striker, attempting to use his speed and shiftiness to take on fullbacks. Gideon does get dispossessed a little too easily at times but presses well enough to win some of those turnovers back. Gideon will be an even more important part of Mercer’s offense if fellow-junior Trevor Martineau leaves for the MLS Superdraft. Martineau is the most dangerous offensive weapon for this Mercer side, so replacing him as the primary outlet for #10 Dylan Gaither will be a big responsibility for Gideon.
Mike Ille is still trying to work his way into more regular minutes with his new team. After beginning his collegiate career alongside Charlie Asensio at Clemson, he quickly transferred to Mercer where he has appeared consistently as a substitute for his new team. That may be the story for the rest of his career, a dozen minutes per match, but one has to think he wants more than that.
That completes our list of Juniors. Let us know who you are most excited about and look for the next segment of this series when we take a look at the very exciting Sophomore class.