There are two ways we could divide up this Sophomore class. The first way that is probably the most accurate when it comes to the Homegrown Player conversation is splitting the class between Will Reilly and everybody else. A more analytical and more nuanced interpretation of this class would be broken into four tiers, as opposed to the three that we used for this class in their Freshman season. We will again start with Will Reilly, then look at players who emerged and played meaningful roles for competitive programs, then look at guys who got meaningful playing time at mid-major or lower division-1 schools, and wrap up with players who either need to jump to a higher competition level or failed to make the field.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Will Reilly is a phenomenal player and I do not understand why he was allowed to leave Atlanta without a Homegrown Player contract. That said, he is showing enough at the traditional collegiate powerhouse of Stanford University to warrant a professional contract from Atlanta United in the future. The club may have this in mind since Matt Lawrey recently name-dropped Reilly as one of the academy guys he calls to check on during a podcast interview with Jason Longshore. In our college season preview, I anticipated Reilly would see his role in Stanford’s midfield increase in his second year but questioned how much competition he would have from upperclassmen to get those minutes. Well, Reilly seems to have settled that in the preseason, cementing his place as Stanford’s version of the #6 that he played for Atlanta United 2. Reilly started each of Stanford’s 20 matches, playing 1611 of a potential 1800 minutes of the season. He also found his way onto the stat sheet with three goals and three assists, including a brace and an assist against Collin Travasos’s Cal Bears which earned him PAC-12 Team of the Week honors.
You can also see how he (#20) works through the midfield with a simple combination play and through-ball for a Thanksgiving assist against High Point University.
Like his former 2s teammate Garrison Tubbs, Reilly will get a tidal wave of attention heading into his Junior year. Atlanta United has made a calculated gamble in allowing him to develop at Stanford, but it seems they and the players value the kind of personal and soccer-specific development that can come from attending top universities with strong soccer programs.
Our next tier of players earned significant roles on strong teams against high levels of collegiate competition.
The breakout player of this group is former Atlanta United 2 defender Matthew Edwards. Matthew is a rising star defender at the University of North Carolina and could quickly work his way into Homegrown Player conversations alongside Will Reilly with a strong follow-up to his Sophomore campaign. Many fans know him as the younger brother of NC State centerback Kendall Edwards, but he has quickly surpassed his brother in his development and impact on the field. Edwards was one of five Tar Heels to start all 19 matches and was fourth in total minutes with 1,588 played on the season, going the full 90 in 14 matches. Edwards was at the heart of a UNC back line that limited its opponents to an average of 6.3 shots per game, the lowest among ACC teams, and held Virginia Commonwealth University shotless until the 89th minute, the longest streak for holding an opponent without a shot in the ACC all season. The group was also able to hold 18th-ranked Virginia, VCU, and UNC Wilmington shotless in the first half of each of those matches. At 6 feet and 170 pounds, Edwards looks significantly bigger than he is and has the same great athleticism that allowed him to play anywhere across the backline for the 2s. As he continues to add strength, he could become a dominant force as a centerback at the professional level.
Another versatile defender who had a massive sophomore campaign is the Air Force’s Kobey Stoup. Stoup started 15 of the 16 matches Air Force played on their way to a Western Athletic Conference Championship. Stoup has incredible speed that he effectively used as a right-back for Atlanta United’s academy, and could use as a centerback for Air Force’s high-energy style of play. If Stoup had to point to a signature performance for himself and for the team, it would be the hard-fought draw Air Force earned against then number-3 ranked Washington University at the beginning of September. After what had been a slow start in losses to Wake Forest and UNC, this match showed Air Force that they could be significantly better than the results so far, and so they channeled that inspiration into a strong in-conference campaign. Due to the strict rules surrounding service requirements, it is hard to say whether Stoup will be a factor in Atlanta United’s future. At a minimum, he will draw plenty of interest for the draft in a couple of years.
Another defender who had a big season was Northwestern University’s Brandon Clagette. Coming off of a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, Clagette was looking to jumpstart his collegiate development. For whatever reason, it didn’t click for him at Pitt, but luckily he found a great home in Chicago. Now paired with former Atlanta United academy defender Nigel Prince, Clagette looked like he belonged. After being tested as a wingback and wing at Pitt, he returned to his fullback roots to focus his athleticism on defense. He started 16 of the 17 matches he played in, playing 1338 minutes, and going the full 90 in draws against #20 Penn State (10/2) and #8 Maryland (10/9). Clagette even scored his first collegiate goal in the season opener against Chicago State (8/25). He and Prince will continue to built their defensive partnership next season and could help improve a group that gave up 33 goals in 17 matches, only recording one shut-out all season.
After having a fantastic Freshman campaign, Asparuh Slavov ran into a lot more competition in the central midfield in his second season. With Daniel Mangarov arriving from UNC Greenboro, the University of Virginia’s midfield went through a bit of a shake-up relegating Slavov to a rotational role off of the bench. He still played in 16 matches, starting two, but played less than half of the minutes of his previous season. With new competition arriving in the form of former Atlanta United holding midfielder Brendan Lambe, Slavov will either have to prove himself indispensable or find a lateral transfer that allows for a better chance as a starter.
The same may be true for UC Irvine’s Josh Kenworthy but for a different reason. Like Slavov, Kenworthy saw a lot of the field in his Freshman campaign, but unlike Slavov, Kenworthy earned the role of a full-time starter as a defender, playing all 20 matches for 1783 of 1800 possible minutes. He was part of a backline that was often victimized by better teams, giving up 31 goals on the season. This group could improve as Kenworthy and his teammates develop further, but it may be worth it for Kenworthy to look for a transfer in his Junior or Senior season to a higher-profile team on the west coast that will give him a better shot at the Superdraft and a professional contract.
Our next group of players is a pair of occasional role-players for mid-major division-1 schools. These guys haven’t pushed their way into a regular starting role yet and may need some development in the USL League Two or NPSL to make a jump in their development.
Navy’s Wasswa Robbins made some important progress in his second season. After not playing at all in his freshman campaign, Robbins worked his way into the lineup for the Midshipmen, starting 7 of the 14 matches he played in for 582 minutes. He played a heavily rotational role, rarely going past 70 minutes in any match. Part of this may have to do with the work rate in the central midfield but it could also have to do with how much more often players are substituted in the collegiate game. On top of the many other oddities of American college soccer, substitutes and starters can check in and out of matches similarly to in basketball. That kind of rotation is more common among attacking players and high-energy roles in the midfield.
Davidson’s centerback Sai Tummala had a similar season to Robbins but didn’t see nearly the same kind of jump in contribution on the field. He started 1 match in the 16 in which he played for 477 minutes, averaging just under 30 minutes per match. His longest appearances came against VCU, Virginia Tech, and his start against Massachusetts, playing about 60 minutes in each. With several seniors on defense graduating this year, Tummala needs to position himself to fill one of their spots in his Junior campaign.
Our final group of players either play for lower-division programs or did not appear for their teams in their Sophomore year.
Clayton State’s Victor Delgado needs to transfer to a higher level of competition. After originally signing with NC State, Delgado returned to the Atlanta area to play for Clayton State. This Division-II program usually features several familiar faces from Atlanta’s network of academies. Delgado and Alexis Iturria are two of the more prominent names there. Delgado also plays for local 4th Division sides like the Georgia Revolution. In his Sophomore campaign, Delgado started 17 of 18 matches in the midfield, scoring six goals in 1400 minutes. He can play as either a central midfielder or holding midfielder and has the skills to play at a higher level if a transfer to Georgia State, Mercer, or Georgia Southern is something he would be interested in for his Junior season.
Another Division-II athlete playing close to home is the University of North Georgia’s Alejandro DeVillena. De Villena signed with the University of North Georgia out of the academy and has been a fairly consistent roleplayer for the Nighthawks’ defense. As a Sophomore, DeVillena started 13 of the 17 matches that he played for a total of 990 minutes, just a bit more than his previous season. He scored his first goal of the season in the final match against Clayton State and added another 4 assists throughout the Fall with two coming against the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He seems to have switched positions from being a midfielder to playing more as a defender. He could use some time with the UPSL, NPSL, or USL League Two summer competition sides in the Atlanta area to continue his development.
Finally, Air Force’s Andrew Durkin went a second season without stepping on the playing field. I can’t tell you whether it is the competition or injuries or both, but this is very surprising for a player who was a team captain during his time playing centerback for Atlanta United. Durkin may need a change of scenery to jumpstart his college career but that may be easier said than done in a service academy.
That wraps up our review of the Sophomore class. Be sure to come back for our final season review of a highly active Freshman class including some of Tony Annan’s early recruits, Grant Howard continuing his momentum with the 2s to Virginia Tech, and Justin McLean’s remarkable first season at Georgia State.