The 2020-2021 NCAA men’s soccer spring season is upon us and with the first days of competition wrapping up, TopDrawer Soccer has released their first Top-25 rankings of the season. The first-glace takeaway is that Atlanta United’s players will be playing in a lot of high-profile matches this spring with academy alumni featured heavily in this first set of rankings, including on 5 of the top-6 teams listed.
This list is heavily weighted towards the ACC which played its full conference schedule in the fall, but the Big-10 and Conference USA also have a respectable representation in this list. Also of note is that Will Reilly and Coleman Gannon’s potential college homes next fall, Stanford and the University of Indiana, are ranked #4 and #7. respectively.
One thing to consider for many of these teams, especially those from the ACC, is that they will be potentially missing key players after the MLS Superdraft and winter’s Homegrown signings. Something worth considering, though, is that draft picks may elect to remain with their college side and MLS teams may retain the MLS rights to those players if they offer them a contract in good faith.
#1 Georgetown University
Ryan Schewe is not technically an alumnus of the Atlanta United academy but he did spend three years in the academy before transferring to the United Futbol Academy where he played alongside current Georgetown teammate, John Franks. Schewe has greatly impressed his coaching staff. As a freshman, he is already the #2 goalkeeper behind the established junior goalkeeper, Giannis Nikopolidis, and seems set to get some starts this spring for the top-ranked college program in the country.
#2 Clemson University
Charlie Asensio and James Brighton are back following an ACC Championship in their fall season. Clemson has a lot of questions after losing Philip Mayaka, Kimarni Smith, and Justin Malou in the first round and Grayson Barber signing a Homegrown contract with Sporting KC. Last fall, James Brighton, as a co-captain of the Tigers, carved out a niche as a super-sub center-forward who could come on in the second half to poach goals. Now with Smith and Barber gone, a lot of the responsibility for scoring goals falls to Brighton. It will be crucial to see how the Clemson midfield evolves after losing two prolific players like Mayaka and Barber but maybe Brandon Parrish, the young star from Tennessee, will be up to the task.
#3 University of Pittsburgh
Bryce Washington and Brandon Clagette return to a hungry Pitt team who must feel incredibly frustrated after coming so close to their first ACC Championship last fall. Clemson clearly outmatched them so that will have to provide extra motivation as the team heads into the spring season. One major asset for Pitt is that they did not lose any players in the draft other than Edward Kizza and they also managed to retain Bryce Washington, a key player for their entire defense. Kizza’s departure may end up helping Clagette. Brandon Clagette did not feature last fall for Pitt and some of that may have to do with his transition to forward. With Atlanta United, Clagette played as a right-sided flanking player as both a right-back and as a right wingback. Now as a forward, Clagette will likely fill a wing role and may end up moving centrally.
#5 Wake Forest University
The Wake Forest team you will see this spring is going to be very different from the team that played last fall. The winter break saw a large departure of talent from the club as the MLS Superdraft and much-deserved MLS Homegrown signings poached the upper levels of the squad.
For players like Takuma Suzuki and Garrison Tubbs who had already earned regular starting roles for Wake Forest, this probably does not mean much other than building chemistry with new teammates, but for Omar Hernandez and Chase Oliver, this could be their opportunity to prove they are the next men up.
Hernandez has worked his way into a solid rotational role at attacking midfield. With Isaiah Parente and potentially Justin McMaster exiting the advanced part of the midfield for the professional game, Hernandez will likely be required to carry more of the offensive responsibilities in the midfield and may start plenty of spring matches in the midfield with Takuma Suzuki.
Chase Oliver is an interesting case of being a highly talented young player primed to emerge if given the chance, but there is a lot of competition among the incoming transfers for his attacking roles. Oliver certainly gave Coach Bobby Muuss plenty to think about in his few opportunities last fall, and could earn his opportunities in training if he can establish himself as a go-to super-sub. One area for Oliver to potentially exploit is Machop Chol’s wing position. With Chol and forward Calvin Harris departing, Kyle Holcomb and Justin Wrona will need a new partner in their attacking trio and this could be exactly where Oliver makes his mark.
#6 University of Akron
Natnael McDonald and Josue Hangi have a chance to earn their place as key players for an Akron team on the rebound. In 2019, Akron was just plain bad. In 2020-2021, Akron seems to have righted the ship and are back near the top of the college soccer world again.
Natnael McDonald was redshirted for his freshman season and is now set to compete for a place in the fullback rotation. He has a few entrenched upperclassmen above him in the roster depth at the moment but he could earn his way into more minutes this spring and in the fall with an impressive spring of training and substitute appearances.
Josue Hangi starts the season behind senior goalkeeper Will Meyer but seems to be very much in the three-way competition to claim the starting spot in the fall. Hangi has already joined a contingent of academy alumni set to compete with the NPSL’s Georgia Revolution over the summer break so he is doing all of the right things to get the attention of his new coaches.
#11 Virginia Tech
Like most of the teams on this list, Virginia Tech lost some key players in the draft, most notably the first overall pick, Daniel Pereira. Despite only playing one season in Atlanta United’s academy, Landon Ameres seems to have benefitted greatly from his time under Tony Annan’s tutelage. After his season with Atlanta, Ameres joined the first group of Clearwater Chargers players selected to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies under the USL Academy initiative. This spring, the talented freshman will seek to help fill the giant hole left by Pereira while cementing his place with the Hokies.
#12 Notre Dame
Aiden McFadden has a different relationship with Atlanta United than the rest of these players. He was Atlanta United’s third-round draft pick, second overall, in the latest MLS Superdraft. We do not yet know whether he will be signing a USL deal with the club or will be returning to Notre Dame for the final campaign of his senior season. Chances are, if he has a chance to sign a professional deal with Atlanta, he will likely be taking that deal, but with the confusing rules of the most recent draft, we will all have to wait and see.
#13 University of Kentucky
After being a defensive multi-tool for the Kentucky Wildcats for his first two college seasons, John Michael Bandy has finally earned the starting spot at left-back in his redshirt sophomore season. Bandy only played in two matches for the Wildcats in the fall but looks healthy and ready to help anchor one of the best defensive units in Conference USA. Bandy is the sort of versatile defensive player who could be valuable for an MLS team in the future. He may need another year or two of seasoning but he could easily become a USL regular or a reliable MLS reserve.
#23 Penn State University
Liam Butts is in early contention for the soccer equivalent of the Heisman trophy. Butts is a dynamic and dominant forward who scores goals like they are going out of style. As a freshman, Butts earned the United Soccer Coaches All-North Region second-team honors, first-team All-Big Ten Conference, Big-Ten All-Freshman Team, and five game-winning goals (most in Big Ten Conference and 16th nationally) of his nine total goals.
Butts is used to winning. Before attending Penn State, Butts won the 2016-2017 national title with Atlanta United’s U-17 academy team along with multiple state and regional titles with GSA 01 Phoenix. Liam is a big and technical forward with a decent burst of speed. The Lawrenceville native enters his sophomore season as the de facto starter at forward for the Nittany Lions and potentially one of the most dangerous attackers in the Big 10.
With a strong sophomore season followed by growth in his junior fall, Butts may end up with a Homegrown deal of his own.
#25 Florida International University
Tavon Mussenden joined Florida International University as part of new Head Coach Kyle Russell’s #19 ranked recruiting class in all of college soccer. Mussenden is a very talented midfield prospect who should see the field early and often in his first season with the Panthers. Joining FIU is a homecoming for Mussenden who joined Atlanta United as a U-18/19 from Fort Lauderdale’s Weston FC academy. With FIU angling to be a South Florida powerhouse, look for Mussenden to gain a lot of attention as he develops in this ambitious college program.
There are a lot of players in the college ranks who went unmentioned in this article. As the season progresses, we will be closely following the players and will share their progress with you here.
With the majority of the college matches broadcast on ESPN+, we recommend that anyone interested in following our players in college or the USL, consider giving the service a try.
Dirty South Soccer has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.