We return to our college season review with a look at this season’s class of Juniors. Prior to the news of Atlanta United trading Homegrown centerback George Campbell to CF Montreal, this article would have looked very different. It would have focused on successes, growth, and ways players can improve heading into their senior seasons. And for most of these guys our format will remain the same, but for Wake Forest’s captain Garrison Tubbs, this article will feel like much more of a draft preview.
Of all of Atlanta United’s centerback prospects, Tubbs is by far the most pro-ready. He is a good organizer on the field, reads the game well, and has good recovery speed and athletic ability to cover quick attackers. In his third season as a starter for Bobby Muuss’s Demon Deacons, Tubbs was one of just five players on the team to start every match. He recorded a team-high 1,750 minutes at the heart of the team’s defense and added two game-winning goals and two assists. He also helped Wake Forest record eight clean sheets including four against ACC opponents. Tubbs is strong with the ball at his feet and competes well in the air. His presence was so important to the team that Coach Muuss even bumped him out to right-back during his sophomore season to keep him on the field. Tubbs played well out there but it was clear that his best position was as the right centerback of a four-man backline. While the overall results this year fell short of Wake Forest’s potential, Tubbs took home several awards and honors including ACC Defensive Player of the Week (Sept. 13, 2022), 2022 All-ACC Second-Team Selection, and United Soccer Coaches All-South Region first-team selection.
With Campbell headed to Montreal and Bryce Washington’s option not picked up, this seems like a golden opportunity for Tubbs to return ahead of his senior season to slot in alongside Noah Cobb and Efrain Morales in the centerback depth chart.
Another centerback worth exploring from this class is Creighton’s Luke Mitchell. Mitchell returned from an injury-shortened sophomore season to help Creighton to the NCAA semifinals where they lost to the eventual champions, Syracuse. Mitchell is a strong defender and on-field organizer who fit well as the central man of Creighton’s three-man backline. Like Tubbs, Mitchell was strong on the ball and capable of shifting from one side of the field to the other in and out of possession to help create overloads on the flanks. Mitchell’s run of form starting around November is the best indication of the strong potential he showed with Atlanta’s academy and in his first year and a half starting for Creighton. If he can regain full health and compete for a full senior season, he could be a tantalizing option for an MLS club through the draft.
Remaining with defenders for a moment, academy right-back and former Elon player Josh Francombe seems to be back with Atlanta United’s academy teams after having recently competed with the U-19s during their Fall UPSL season. Francombe is an interesting player with strong potential and pedigree. He has several caps for Welsh youth national team sides and has received contractual offers from clubs overseas. It is good to see him back in Atlanta as he and the club consider his professional future.
Now, back to college prospects.
After Tubbs, the next best player in this class (in my opinion) is the University of Virginia’s attacking midfielder Daniel Mangarov. Mangarov earned a huge promotion ahead of his Junior year when he transferred from the mid-major University of North Carolina at Greensboro to the perennial top-tier powerhouse of the University of Virginia. Mangarov is a classic #10 with strong technical abilities on the dribble and in unlocking the opposing defense during build-ups and during counterattacks. I wish there were more highlight clips out there of some of his beautifully weighted passes to his forwards. He is an artist.
Mangarov started 18 matches this season and played 1553 minutes, scoring and assisting a goal in his Virginia debut in an early season 4-0 victory over Rider. His debut goal, in fact, was the first goal for the entire team this season.
He also scored and assisted Virginia’s two goals to pull back a draw from a 2-0 deficit at North Carolina in the team’s regular-season finale. His offensive contribution of three goals and four assists ranked fourth on the team in overall points. His senior campaign should be one to watch for Atlanta United fans. His midfield partners will likely include Atlanta United prospects Asparuh Slavov and Brendan Lambe, and he will likely be in an attacking group with forwards Andy Sullins and Amari Salley.
Another talented attacking midfielder in need of either a transfer or a strong push into the 4th division is Clayton State’s Alexis Iturria. Iturria is an athletic and direct attacking midfielder who is probably playing at too low of a competition level for his skillset. His sophomore season is probably the best indicator of his potential with 8 goals and 5 assists over 1386 minutes. This last season was cut short by an injury after just six matches, but over those six matches, he scored a goal and added three assists. His path towards a professional future will certainly come from the 4th division competition in the Atlanta area. Over the last few years he has played for Georgia Revolution (2021), Southern Soccer Academy (2022), and Clayton International (2022), and will likely join another one of these teams ahead of his senior campaign. I hope he is able to find a good transfer to a mid-major school where he can test his abilities and show how he can play against better competition.
The goalkeeper group is the deepest position in this class. Georgetown’s Ryan Schewe, University of California Berkeley’s Colin Travasos, and Georgia State’s Josue Hangi lead this group which also includes Mercer’s backup keeper Brant Zulauf. Ryan Schewe has the most prestigious resume of the group but it is unclear whether Atlanta United can claim him as a Homegrown. He played for 3 years in the academy before transferring to UFA as a U-17. Unclear whether we have any right to claim him as a homegrown prospect after he graduates. This was his first year as a full-time starter for Georgetown and he performed well, giving up 11 goals in 15 matches with an 83.8% save percentage. Georgetown is a perennially talented team with annual championship aspirations so Schewe will have a phenomenal opportunity to land himself on a big stage during his senior season.
Travasos’s story reminds me a lot of Justin Garces. Both are talented goalkeepers who played for California-based teams that struggled on defense and made their keepers survive high volumes of shots. Over 15 matches (1333 minutes) in 2022, Travasos was peppered by over 200 shots. He made 50 saves and allowed 20 goals for a career-best 71% save percentage. 4 of those goals came in a disastrous loss to Will Reilly’s Stanford. While the wins weren’t there, he still managed to create 3 shutouts for a bad Cal Bears team. Things don’t look to be getting that much better for Cal next season so Travasos will need to continue to develop, as Garces did, by overcoming adversity.
Hangi is potentially the most physically gifted of this group. He is extremely athletic and plays bigger than his 6’1” frame. His career had a bit of a false start at Akron where he was unused for two seasons as that program went through some major changes. Now at Georgia State, Hangi established himself as the #2 keeper on the team behind Marietta’s Gunther Rankenburg. With two younger keepers behind him, he will have some competition for the starting spot in 2023 but his 2022 audition seems to have gone well. Hangi saw the field in three matches, starting two. He closed out the final 16 minutes against Winthrop (9/2) in a 5-1 win with two saves and one goal allowed. He started and played a full 90 minutes in back-to-back wins against UIW (10/11) and Liberty (10/15) with 7 saves between the two matches and only one goal allowed per match.
Zulauf is a career backup keeper at Mercer who may finally be nearing his chance as a starter. In his four starts this season, two were shutouts. The other two were bad losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb with 3 goals allowed in each. Each seemed to have been a defensive struggle for Mercer with Zulauf forced to make 6 saves against FGCU and 11 saves against Lipscomb. Overall, he tied his career high with 21 saves across the four matches with a 78% save percentage. Zulauf’s main competition is Trevor McMullen player who statistically doesn’t look that different from Zulauf but who visually seems to be a more advanced player. If Zulauf can find a good 4th division team to start for this summer, he may work his way into more opportunities in his senior season.
Two forwards who need breakout senior campaigns are Duke’s Miguel Ramirez and Wake Forest’s Chase Oliver. Both are highly talented players competing on teams with a lot of depth and talent at the forward position. Ramirez played in 17 matches without a single start. Over 567 minutes, he added three assists against Wake Forest, Howard, and Florida International. He is a hardworking forward who does a lot of what doesn’t appear on the stats sheet. He is the kind of guy who creates opportunities for higher-profile attackers like Peter Stroud and Thor Ulfarsson. He does best centrally or as a second striker but Duke tends to play in a 4-3-3 which forces him out wide in his substitute appearances. With a lot of the team’s attacking talent likely to depart as Homegrown players or draft picks, Ramirez may finally get his chance in his senior season. Oliver tends to play as a wing or a wide midfielder and offers a combination of speed, versatility, and the occasional wonder goal off of the bench. He played in 16 matches this season, recording two goals and an assist in 349 minutes of action, both goals coming from back-to-back 6-1 victories over George Mason and Clemson. His assist also came against George Mason.
The same is true for Dayton’s South African left-back Geni Kanyane. I’m still not entirely sure how we got the Homegrown rights to Kanyane but he’s ours and is worth the attention I’m sure the academy staff is giving him. He is gradually working his way back onto the field for Dayton, playing in 15 matches and starting 6 of them for 493 minutes. He primarily played as a defense-first fullback for Dayton and that seems to be pretty consistent with his strengths. He isn’t going to light the world on fire with assists and goals from the fullback spot but he will be an athletic and serviceable defender. Kanyane will likely look to augment his development with more time in the 4th division this offseason. He played for the Dayton Dutch Lions (2021) and Fort Wayne FC (2022) over the last two summers and will likely remain in the midwest close to his school.
Our final player featured in this recap is Air Force midfielder Remi Smith. Smith has grown into a reliable central midfield roleplayer for Air Force over the last few years. He rarely appears on the stat sheet aside from a handful of assists but that’s ok because his role is more on the defensive and organizational side of the ball. He started 7 of the 16 matches he played this season for a total of 963 minutes. He will likely play a similar role in his senior season ahead of beginning his service as a member of the United States’ Air Force.
Congratulations to this class of juniors and best of luck in their senior season. Next, we will review the sophomore class led by Will Reilly.