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Will Machop Chol evolve into Machamp Chol in 2022?

International duty may be the rare candy he needs

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Chicago Fire Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Machop Chol

Position: Forward

2021 MLS Matches: 9 matches, 4 starts for 424 minutes

2021 USL-Championship Matches: 3 matches for 197 minutes

What went right in 2021

Machop Chol became the first Atlanta United Academy alumni to become a Homegrown Player after attending college. In 2021, Chol culminated a successful four years at Wake Forest University by returning to his home club for his first professional contract.

In what was an otherwise tense start to the season under Gabriel Heinze, Chol brought his kind and affable presence to the squad and quickly became a favorite for many in the organization. His hard work and growing chemistry with his teammates paid off as injuries and international duty rapidly thinned Atlanta United’s forward depth and thrust Chol into duty. He made his professional debut in the opening scoreless draw against Orlando City on April 17th and went on to start four matches against Nashville, New England, Cincinnati, and Columbus in July. His first professional assist came in that Cincinnati match and helped secure the 1-1 draw for Atlanta United.

At the end of the season, Chol received his second call-up to the South Sudanese National Team. He had previously been called up in December 2021 but both matches in his previous call-up were canceled so he was still looking for his international debut. Chol joined a growing contingent of Five Stripes players called up by their national teams over the winter. He traveled with the team to Dubai to face Uzbekistan (Jan 30th) and hopes to join them again as part of the African Cup of Nations Qualifying against Djibouti in March.

The nicest thing about 2021 for Chol may have been making a new best friend.

What to improve in 2022

There are a lot of areas for Machop to improve. Consistency is a big part of it and that will come with regular training and opportunities under the same manager. Chol’s role may be diminished this season as long as the other forwards remain healthy but he can still contribute with his size and speed on the flank.

That said, Chol needs to improve his touch and ability to use that speed from his long stride to beat defenders and win the race to the touchline so that he can feed Josef Martinez and his opposite wing crashing the back post. For that matter, Chol can also improve his runs to the back post to use his size and speed to score with his head. This could come with better service from Luis Araujo, Andrew Gutman, Tyler Wolff, and Brooks Lennon. He also needs to consistently receive and finish the chances he gets.

In addition to these technical improvements, Chol could also add some bulk and strength to help fend off defenders and dominate both in the air and with the ball at his feet. He got bullied off of the ball a bit too often last season by smaller players.

To improve on all of these things, Machop Chol needs lots of in-game experience in 2022 to continue developing and evolving his game, build consistency and confidence, and limit what some fans harshly described as chokes last season. Some of that may come from his continued opportunities with the South Sudanese National Team but in the end, it will have to come more from his club than his country.

2022 Season Outlook

Unfortunately for Chol, he has a lot of competition for minutes on the wings. Luis Araujo is a clear lock on the right and the left may be filled up Atlanta United’s new Young Designated Player who will be replacing Ezequiel Barco. An additional U-22 player replacing Erik Lopez may also offer competition on the wings, plus players like Tyler Wolff, Jake Mulraney, and new draftee Eric Centeno showing their value as role players. There do not appear to be many avenues to playing regularly unless he spends most of that time with Atlanta United 2.

A loan may be exactly what Machop needs in 2022 to become Machamp in 2023.