Our last group of college players to review is this year’s class of collegiate sophomores. This group is still young so so it is too early to make sweeping judgments about this class but things already look promising with a few standouts leading the way.
We begin this week with the defenders to highlight one of the two most promising players from this class.
Wake Forest’s defender Garrison Tubbs is probably a familiar name to many of you from his time with Atlanta United 2 and his frequent inclusion in Homegrown player speculation lists. Since he got to Winston Salem, Tubbs has done nothing but impress, stepping in immediately as a freshman to fill in for eventual DC United draft pick Michael DeShields and never looking back. Tubbs started 21 of his 20 matches played in his second year for 1728 minutes, scoring his first collegiate goal on a set-piece header and adding 5 assists from the right-back position.
Back to back games with assists for Garrison Tubbs at Wake Forest. After an outstanding freshman season at center back, Tubbs has moved to right back for Wake this fall and has steadily improved the attacking side of his game #ATLUTD https://t.co/X54kcXeedL— ATLUTD Prospects (@ATLUTDprospects) November 4, 2021
This season, Coach Bobby Muuss decided to try Tubbs out as a giant right-back who can move inside to being a right-sided centerback in a back-3 and Tubbs seems to have adjusted to it nicely. Tubbs is a strong defender, capable with his feet, and is just an overall likable guy who shines with affability and humility. These traits helped keep him on the field even when faced with steep competition in the defensive depth chart. While the club may want him to remain at Wake Forest for a full four years, they will be getting a highly talented and polished defender when he emerges on the other side.
I’m still not entirely sure how we have the rights to Dayton’s left-back Geni Kanyane but he is an intriguing young prospect to watch. After a respectable freshman campaign in 2020, Kanyane continued his development with the local Dayton Dutch Lions in the USL League Two as a means of catapulting himself into his sophomore season. Interestingly, he played as a wide midfielder in League Two to work on the offensive side of his game. In his second season with the University of Dayton, he started 14 of the 17 matches he played, adding a goal and an assist in 1137 minutes of play. From what little I’ve admittedly seen of Kanyane, he is a very capable and athletic defender and is still working on the final product on the offensive side of his game. There is plenty to be excited about when watching him play, though, so his next couple of years of college development could be exciting to watch.
The other extremely promising player from this class is University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Daniel Managarov who had himself quite a sophomore season at the attacking midfield position. Across 16 starts, he scored four goals, including game-winners in consecutive matches, and tallied three assists. Most impressively, he served up a beautiful assist across the face of the goal to help UNC Greensboro shock the eventual champion Clemson Tigers early in the season.
Mangarov’s strong second season helped the Spartans win the Southern Conference regular-season championship as the national leaders in corner kicks per game (8.00), goal differential (38), points per game (8.39), scoring offense (2.89), and earned himself a promotion of sorts as he transferred to the soccer powerhouse University of Virginia following the season. At UVA, Mangarov will join freshman phenom and former academy teammate Asparuh Slavov in the midfield and will welcome a couple more Atlanta United freshmen forwards into the mix in 2022.
Another midfielder who had a big second season was Wake Forest’s Chase Oliver.
Chase plays as a hybrid wide midfielder and winger depending upon the formation but generally, he runs the flanks and finds ways of using his speed and athleticism to either get on the end of balls or whip crosses to teammates crashing the back post. He can play on the left or right and used that versatility to be one of three players on the team to appear in all 21 matches (four starts). By the end of the season, he scored four goals and added another four assists.
Another wide midfielder making the most of his new opportunity is Mercer’s Natnael McDonald. McDonald originally signed with Akron University but after two seasons on the bench, he decided that playing in his home state of Georgia with his old academy and Atlanta United 2 teammates sounded a whole lot better. Now with the Bears, McDonald continued to play on the flanks, sometimes as a defender and others as a midfielder. He is still adjusting to the system but already looks to be gaining confidence thanks in no small part to the chemistry he already has with so much of the team. As part of Mercer’s Southern Conference championship season, McDonald contributed three assists over 12 matches (9 starts), wracking up a respectable 618 minutes in his debut season. McDonald will look to further cement his role in his new team as a loaded Mercer team led by upperclassmen Atlanta United products make another run at a title.
Rounding out this group of midfielders is Air Force’s Remi Smith. Smith had a big jump in minutes in his second season, going from a few minor cameos in his freshman campaign to 805 minutes across 19 matches with 7 starts. This Air Force team had a respectable season, winning 10 matches and upsetting the Western Athletic Conference regular-season champions thanks to a key assist by Smith. Smith and his growing contingent of Atlanta United teammates will hope to build on a promising season in 2022 with eyes on high-flying glory.
Jordan Matthews must have been thrilled to have his old academy director as the new coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks. In his second season, Matthews’s role on the team continued to grow, starting 9 of the 13 matches he appeared in, scoring two goals and adding an assist from the left wing.
Matthews departed the academy as a fullback and wingback but has fully committed to his move upfield to a wide forward role. Annan continued that trend in his first year as a head coach, relying on Matthews to generate speed and stretch the field up the right flank before shifting entirely to the left flank in early October. With more Atlanta United and Atlanta-area talent on the way, Matthew’s second season under Annan in 2022 could be a breakout campaign for the youngster.
Another talented young forward is Duke’s Miguel Ramirez. Ramirez, traditionally a center forward, had the challenging task of remaining relevant to an up-and-coming Duke team highlighted by Icelandic sophomore phenom Thor Ulfarsson, a Mac Herman Trophy nominee and likely Generation Adidas signee this winter. To Ramirez’s credit, he held his own in the competition and adjusted to playing a second striker role and wide forward role to continue to get himself on the field in 19 matches, starting 10 of them. Ramirez is a hard-working forward who does a lot of the dirty work off of the ball and on the ball to create space for playmakers like Ulfarsson to feed. With Ulfarsson likely headed to MLS in 2022, Ramirez may see his stats and responsibilities continue to grow as the club will need to replace Ulfarsson’s 15 goals and attacking midfielder Peter Stroud’s 4.
We currently have three goalkeepers in this class but only one of them got any playing time. That player is the University of California Berkeley’s redshirt sophomore Collin Travasos.
Travasos had a breakout campaign in 2020 posting a 1.59 goals-against average and three shutouts over 8 starts (10 appearances). While it would be unfair to say Travasos had a sophomore slump (he didn’t), his numbers don’t look quite as stellar as his previous season. Across 10 games (6 starts), Travasos got peppered by 120 shots, saving 60% of shots on goal (27) and allowing 18 goals for a goal-against average of 2.26. He faced more than 11 shots in 7 of his 10 appearances. He had two shutouts on the season, including a heroic 65-minute substitute appearance against Santa Clara where he shut down a Santa Clara team (already ahead 3-0) with 5 saves to allow the Bears to claw back a draw. Overall, his second season reminds me a bit of some of Justin Garces’s seasons at UCLA where he faced a ton of goals and continued to grow as a shot-stopper and team leader as he refused to quit even under the most stressful circumstances.
That wraps up this year’s class of sophomore prospects. Let us know which of these guys you are excited about and which you think could make a difference for Atlanta United in the future.