The college soccer season is almost upon us so it is time for us to check in on the growing pool of Atlanta United prospects continuing their development in the collegiate ranks.
With most college soccer matches airing on ESPN+ again this season, you may wonder which teams to watch to get the most 5-Stripes action. The teams with the most Atlanta United players on them this season are #15 ranked Wake Forest, University of Virginia, Air Force Academy, University of South Carolina, Mercer, and Georgia State.
Wake Forest remains on this list of must-watch teams with top senior midfielders Omar Hernandez and Takuma Suzuki leading a highly experienced group of MLS academy products. Junior centerback Garrison Tubbs returns to a loaded Demon Deacon backline including NYCFC’s talented Prince Amponsah. Tubbs played a bit of right-back last season, too, in order to keep the talented defender in the line-up. His hard work on and off of the field was rewarded when he was named one of Wake Forest’s captains for the 2022 season.
The same is true for junior forward Chase Oliver who had a bit of a breakout season in his second year, adding a few breathtaking moments to the team highlight reel. With many of the top attackers on the team departing for MLS, Oliver has a chance to lock down one of the wide forward or wide midfield positions.
Just one state over in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the University of Virginia has burst onto the Atlanta United scene after signing junior attacking midfielder Daniel Mangarov to partner with former academy teammate Asparuh Slavov. Slavov had a strong freshman season in both the holding midfield and box-to-box central midfield roles for the Cavs. Mangarov is a dynamic attacking midfielder and will find his way onto the field in the midfield or as a wide attacker when needed. While the ACC may be a step up in competition from what he faced at UNC Greensboro, he should have no problem adapting to UVA’s style of play. UVA’s midfield looks set to get even more exciting for Atlanta fans and college soccer fans at large with 2s regular Brendan Lambe set to join the club in 2023. Not content to just build their midfield with Atlanta’s talent, UVA also added forwards Andy Sullins and Amari Salley to this class. After a strong season with the U-19s and the 2s, Sullins seems primed to break in as a freshman at center forward, and the same may be true for Salley who remains a top wide forward talent. It didn’t take long for Sullins to make an impact, scoring a brace in just two minutes of his first exhibition against Bowling Green.
The can’t-miss fixture for UVA this fall is against Wake Forest in Charlottesville on October 22nd.
Another growing hotbed of Atlanta United college talent is Tony Annan’s University of South Carolina program. In just his second season as head coach at U of SC, Annan has firmly made his mark on the program, bringing his former academy talent from all parts of the academy’s history to compete in the team’s first season in the Sun Belt Conference. The most interesting addition is Will Crain who joins the Gamecocks as he pursues his graduate degree after graduating from Brown in the spring. Crain is a highly experienced defender and the former captain of the academy’s championship-winning U-17 side. In-coming freshman center forward Bryce Griffith also looks likely to play a lot of minutes for Annan after completing his first season in the USL League Two for South Carolina United FC (formerly SC United Bantams). Other key freshman additions from the academy include midfielders Christian Bruletti and Rocky Perez (formerly of San Antonio FC’s academy) and defender Junior Saint-Juste who trialed for Atlanta United’s U-19s after playing for Kalonji Pro Profile. The Gamecocks will take on in-state rivals #1 ranked Clemson on September 2nd and new conference foes Georgia State on October 28th.
Just down the road in Macon, Dylan Gaither and Ousman Jabang begin their senior campaigns for a Mercer team that surprised a lot of people last year. A massive part of that came from Gaither’s inspired performance as he scored 14 goals and added 5 assists in 19 matches from the attacking midfield position. Gaither already played a big role for Atlanta United 2 in 2018 so fans watching his senior season may be witnessing his audition to return. His central midfield partner Ousman Jabang will do a lot of the less-flashy work behind him to help Gaither have the freedom to work his magic. Both players were named to the Southern Conference preseason all-conference team so expectations are already high for them. Based on just the exhibition matches so far, Jabang may be shifting to more of a box-to-box role which would be perfect for his range and tenacity. His first goal against Campbell could be the first of many this season. Junior fullback Natnael McDonald begins his second season for Mercer after transferring from Akron in 2021. McDonald will shift between wide midfield roles and fullback as needed. Other Atlanta United products likely to contribute include forward Mike Ille and goalkeeper Brant Zulauf. Mercer has an exciting Atlanta United-filled trilogy of fixtures that fans should try to catch starting on August 28th against Georgia State, September 2nd against Kendall Edwards and Jeremiah Luoma’s NC State, and September 5th against Grant Howard’s Virginia Tech.
After seeing a lot of roster turnover, Georgia State remains on this list with a robust class of local freshmen and transfers from the academy joining veteran defender Clay Dawes. After battling injuries for most of his college career, Dawes returns for one more year as a graduate student. He is a talented and versatile defender able to line up in the midfield or at any of the centerback positions of GSU’s 5-man backline. A healthy season for Dawes could lead to late-round consideration in the next Superdraft. Joining Dawes is the immensely gifted goalkeeper Josue Hangi who transferred to GSU after not playing at Akron. Hangi has made up for this lag in his development by training with Atlanta-area 4th division sides each of the last two summers. He seems set to either become the day-1 starter for GSU or at least become a regular starter by the end of the season. Forward Matthew Taylor, midfielder Justin McLean, and centerback Evan Schroeder round out this group. All three of these freshmen have a strong chance of making an immediate impact as either starters or regular rotational players off of the bench.
Finally, the Air Force Academy remains another top destination for Atlanta United academy talent. Junior midfielder Remi Smith is the veteran of the group with sophomore defenders Andrew Durkin, Kobey Stoup, and freshman fullback Rohan Blackwell rounding out the class. Kobey Stoup saw a lot of playing time at right-back in his first season at Air Force, and his former defensive partner Andrew Durkin is likely to inherit one of the centerback spots in the next few seasons. In addition to their east coast fixture with Wake Forest, Air Force will also take on Matthew Edwards’ University of North Carolina on August 25 in Chapel Hill.
The rest of the diaspora of prospects is spread far and wide across nearly every level of college soccer from the top Division-1 schools to some of the Junior Colleges and Community Colleges. For the sake of brevity, we will highlight just a few of our remaining players from each position group in this preview that we haven’t already mentioned and do a more thorough review of the entire player pool at the end of the season.
The player most of you have been waiting on is Stanford’s Will Reilly. Reilly exited Atlanta United as potentially its most-anticipated prospect to head to the college ranks. It took Reilly a little while to be fully rotated into the squad in his first season but he ended the year with 3 starts on 15 appearances, two assists, and a game-winning goal against local rivals San Francisco. Reilly will likely play a larger role in Stanford’s midfield in year two but will have a lot of competition from older teammates for the few coveted midfield spots in Stanford’s lineup. All signs point toward him becoming a regular starter though.
The defense is the deepest pool of talent of all of the different position groups. Many of these players have logged minutes with Atlanta United 2 and will have careers at least at the USL level. Centerbacks Kendall Edwards (NC State) and Luke Mitchell (Creighton University) enter their seasons with a lot of questions. For Edwards, it is whether he can break out in his final year to reach the potential he showed at the academy level and with Atlanta United 2 before largely disappearing at NC State. For Mitchell, it will be how he feels after an injury-shortened 2021 season. Both have a lot to play for as potential Superdraft candidates, or maybe even Homegrown signees. Sophomore Matthew Edwards is also looking for a breakout at the #24 ranked the University of North Carolina after earning four early-season starts for UNC in 2021. Even though he is just 6 feet tall, Edwards looks like a giant and has the athleticism to use his size as both a centerback and a fullback. This versatility could help him continue to scale up his impact. Two other highly-talented freshmen looking for early success are Nigel Prince (Northwestern) and Grant Howard (Virginia Tech). Howard is riding a tsunami of momentum after a fantastic season with Atlanta United 2. He could compete for a fullback spot immediately in Virginia Tech’s training camp. The same is true for Prince who brings a unique blend of size, athleticism, and technical ability. Joining Prince at Northwestern is Brandon Clagette who recently transferred from the University of Pittsburgh. Clagette brings a lot of speed to the flanks and can play as either a fullback, wingback, or wing. Northwestern lists him as a defender so they may be looking to transition him back to his more natural fullback position that he played in the academy.
Liam Butts, forward for the #21 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, is looking to get his scoring touch back in his senior season. Butts had a huge freshman season in 2019 with 9 goals concentrated more on doing the harder invisible work at forward in 2021. He scored just 4 goals and 1 assist in 21 games, starting 17 as a striker, with two of those goals being game-winners. The shots were there with a team-high 21 on goal (third in the Big-10 Conference in accuracy) but the luck wasn’t. A big senior season could catapult him back into the Mac Hermann Trophy conversation that swirled around him in his sophomore season. Another forward looking for a big season is Jeremiah Luoma who transferred to NC State from Georgia Southern after two fantastic summers playing for the NPSL’s Appalachian FC. Luoma can play all three forward positions and a combination of a false-9 and a true #10. He brings speed, touch, and experience to a Wolfpack team that is often overlooked due to their competition in the ACC. Miguel Ramirez (forward) has the distinction of playing for the currently top-ranked Duke Blue Devils team at #12. He played more of a second striker role last season in support of Thor Ulfarsson so most of his impact on the field did not appear on the stats sheet. He’s a hard-working player who does a lot with spacing, moving defenders, and creating openings for flashier teammates. With only two goals and an assist in his second season, he is likely looking to make himself more of the offensive focus for Duke in this Junior campaign.
And finally, we come to our goalkeepers. Russell Shealy begins his final year at Syracuse with the hopes of locking down the goalkeeper position for himself. Shealy has battled a lot of adversity in his college career and has had to earn every opportunity he has gotten. With the uncertainty at the goalkeeper position in Atlanta, it is possible that he could return on a Homegrown deal but it is more likely he will be available in the draft. Collin Travasos also looks to make the goalkeeper position his own after playing in a platoon in his second season. He had a breakout first season in goal before coming down to earth a little bit with the inconsistency of the platoon. If he can build a rhythm, Travasos could become one of the top college keepers heading into his senior campaign in 2023. Dagoberto Romero begins his college career at Georgia Southern after a highly impressive academy career. The same is true for James Dee Jr. who joins Presbyterian College after equally impressing at every level of the academy. Romero looks to be the clear favorite for the starting position in goal and even played for Apotheos FC in the 4th division this summer to prepare. Dee may have to wait for a season behind entrenched senior Grayson Horton, but his tenure back in goal could begin quickly.
That wraps up our preview of the 2022 NCAA Men’s College Soccer season. There are a lot of exciting prospects in the mix this year so please let us know who you will be watching and who you would like to see return to Atlanta United.