We wrap up our review of the college ranks with this year’s freshman class. There is a ton of promise in this group. I know most of you came here to check in on Will Reilly, but I promise that there are a couple of other guys you should stick around for.
There are three tiers of this freshman class right now. We have the top players who broke out and contributed in a big way in their first collegiate seasons earning rankings in the top 100 freshmen in the country. We have the second tier that had quieter years but could contribute next year. And a third group who played in Division II who are likely looking to jump to Division I in the near future.
We will start our first tier with the player you all know best, Stanford’s midfielder Will Reilly. Reilly became a household name of sorts for many 5-Stripes fans through his strong performances with the 2s and the heavy speculation about his impending Homegrown contract. Instead of signing a professional contract, Reilly headed off to one of the best soccer programs in the country at Stanford. It took a little bit of time for Reilly to work his way in and earn minutes but once he did there was no turning back. Reilly ended up featuring in 15 matches in his first season, starting against Oregon State, Denver, and University of California Berkeley, three tough teams. He even scored his first collegiate goal, a 90th-minute game-winner over San Francisco.
“It was awesome,” said Reilly of scoring the game-winning goal. “It’s an amazing feeling. I can’t even remember the last time I scored a goal in a game and to do it in an environment like this, it feels so good.”
Reilly played up and down the Stanford midfield in any role they needed him to and will likely continue to gain valuable experience doing so as they seem to value having him on the field in any way they can get him out there. Reilly will look to become a regular starter in 2022 in place of departing senior Will Richmond and will hope to have a breakout season that could accelerate his return to Atlanta United.
The freshman midfielder who outshone Reilly in his first season was the University of Virginia’s Asparuh Slavov. Slavov is a Bulgarian youth international central midfielder. As a freshman, he started all 17 matches for a young UVA side that is set to add additional Atlanta United talent in 2022. He is a consistent and steady presence in the middle of the field and can occasionally rip a rocket of a shot.
While the results weren’t there on the field for UVA, they have to feel excited about the growth they saw from Slavov who continues to improve in his movement and distribution, and long with his ability to control the middle of the field. Slavov’s steady presence earned him an ACC All-Freshman Team selection as the first of what end up being many accolades. Adding a dynamic attacker like Daniel Mangarov in front of him should solve a lot of the problems UVA had in getting results in 2021.
The top defender of this group is Air Force’s Kobey Stoup.
Ahead of his first college season, Stoup was a darkhorse candidate on several of our lists for potential Homegrown signings. Like Garrison Tubbs, Stoup is a highly athletic defender capable of playing as either a centerback or fullback. So far at Air Force, they are using his athleticism to terrorize the flanks of the opposition and feed their main goalscorer, Tristan Trager. It took Stoup about a month (5 matches) of steady work to earn his first start but he cemented himself in that spot for the rest of the season, earning 8 starts to close out the season. While the offensive stats aren’t there yet, like Reilly, he earned his debut in a game-winner against Houston Baptist.
Beginning the second tier of our freshmen is University of California Irvine’s left-back Josh Kenworthy. Kenworthy had an impressive first season, earning 11 starts in 19 matches for his new team, and adding a couple of assists to help on the offensive end as part of a Big West Conference Co-Championship season. There is a lot to like about how Kenworthy is playing. He could turn into a very good player after four years of consistent minutes at UC Irvine.
Stoup’s academy teammate and now college teammate Andrew Durkin did not have as much luck getting on the field due to the established group of centerbacks ahead of him, but he will look to earn his chance in his sophomore season.
The University of North Carolina’s versatile defender Matthew Edwards also had a fairly quiet freshman campaign, earning four starts to begin the season before sitting for the bulk of conference play. He earned his first assist in his debut match and helped his team to a lopsided 14-1 goal differential over those four matches. Edwards will likely get another shot to earn starts in his second season and seems better positioned than his older brother Kendall Edwards to breakthrough.
A few of our freshmen attended a lower-division school but that should not discount their accomplishments in those programs.
Clayton State’s attacking midfielder Alexis Iturria had a breakout year on the heels of a successful summer with the Georgia Revolution. He scored eight goals and finished with five assists, at one point going on a five-game streak featuring four goals and two assists. On Sept. 20, he earned his first PBC Player of the Week award and was then named DII National Player of the Week after scoring four goals and recording one assist in two games. Iturria may choose to remain at Clayton State but this kind of season could propel him into Divison I with the right transfer.
Another Clayton State freshman and former Georgia Revolution defender is redshirt freshman Victor Delgado. Delgado initially joined North Carolina State in 2020, but that did not seem to work out so he took the summer to make up for lost time with the Georgia Revolution before transferring to the second division. Delgado immediately slotted in as a starter, wracking up 1678 minutes over 19 starts, adding an additional goal and assist. Like for Iturria, Clayton State is probably not the end goal for Delgado. He will likely be looking for a transfer back to a Division I team in the near future.
The University of North Georgia’s Alejandro DeVillena rounds out this group of freshmen. Like his fellow Division II compatriots, he did well in his first season to earn consistent minutes and continue his development. He played as both a midfielder and defender, scrapping to stay on the field with 10 starts over 18 matches played. He added a goal and an assist on the season and will look to continue his growth in 2022.
This closes out our review of the 2021 college season. Let us know who you are excited about and what you hope to see from these guys heading into their sophomore seasons in 2022.