For the first time, May Madness is upon us. The NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Committee officially released the field and the bracket for the tournament and there are quite a few teams featuring Atlanta United Academy products on them, most notably the #1 overall seed Clemson and the #2 overall seed Pittsburgh. You can find the full bracket on the NCAA’s website.
Clemson has a very challenging path ahead of them. While they should not be tested too much before the Quarterfinals, the Tigers team led by Charlie Asensio and James Brighton will have to go up against either a very good Penn State team or the defending champion Georgetown Hoyas. Penn State’s prolific sophomore forward Liam Butts has come alive in the last few matches and continues to grow in confidence. Butts was a preseason candidate to win College Soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy so he certainly has the skills to take over a match when he is finding the back of the net. Penn State will have to get by the University of Massachusetts and Georgetown will need to get past an upstart High Point team that is hungry after coming off of winning their conference. While High Point may not garner a lot of interest for Atlanta United fans right now, their 2021 team will feature redshirt senior Aldair Cortes who recently transferred from Georgia Southern to spend his final season in a program with a much higher potential for success right now.
In the next quadrant of the bracket, Landon Ameres of Virginia Tech and Remi Smith of Air Force get to experience their first college playoffs. Neither of these teams is expected to go far, but those expectations are for very different reasons. Virginia Tech lost their top midfielder Daniel Perera to the MLS Superdraft as the top overall pick by Austin FC. Tech has responded admirably and could be a darkhorse threat for a Quarter-final run but will likely have a hard time with Indiana. For those interested, Academy prospect and 2s regular Coleman Gannon has committed to Indiana for the 2021 season. It is hard to say whether Remi Smith will appear in Air Force’s upcoming fixture against #6 seed Seton Hall, but Air Force likes to use a lot of their bench to keep on the pressure in matches so he could receive a brief cameo.
On the lower half of the bracket, Atlanta United product-heavy Wake Forest looks for a Cinderella run with a very young team of talented but unproven prospects. Their main obstacle will be Stanford, which is where Will Reilly may be headed in the Fall. Garrison Tubbs has had a sensational Freshman season for the Demon Deacons and earned himself an ACC All-Freshman Team Selection as a result. Wake Forest’s midfield will feature Takuma Suzuki and Omar Hernandez as likely starters with Chase Oliver serving as an attacking threat off of the bench. Wake Forest may face the University of Kentucky in the Third Round. Former academy defender John Michael Bandy will likely continue the rotational defensive role that he has played this fall for the Wildcats. Bandy mostly plays on the wings as a fullback or wingback, but can also move inside as a defensive midfielder. The sleeper team from this part of the bracket may be the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This small Southern Conference team features a lot of young talent and may take some of their opponents by surprise. Look for freshman attacking midfielder Daniel Mangarov to play a big role in their offensive success.
Finally, we come to the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt has had an incredible season, winning the ACC regular season with a dominating offensive game and solid defensive coverage led by senior centerback Bryce Washington. There is a lot of speculation as to where Washington may be headed after Pitt concludes their season. Atlanta United retained the Homegrown rights for Washington before the draft and was rumored to be considering him around the time the team signed Machop Chol. With the MLS roster at capacity, Atlanta United would need to sign and loan Washington to the 2s or another USL club for the 2021 season, but that would allow them to retain a very athletic and competent defender in their system. Freshman forward Brandon Clagette has not played a large role for Pitt so far this season, but being part of a playoff team has a strong effect on young players. As Pitt retools their roster for the Fall season, Clagette will have a chance to help Pitt retain their high-powered offense and make another run at a title.
All matches will be available on ESPN+ during the tournament from April 29 to May 17. If you are not able to watch Atlanta United’s matches through your normal means of viewing your favorite teams, I highly recommend supporting our talented prospects as they chase a championship.
Writer’s Note: While many of our academy products made it to the playoffs, many did not. To recognize all of the hard work they put in over a highly unusual COVID-impacted season, we will be releasing a recap of all players’ seasons in an upcoming article ahead of the tournament.