The 2024 MLS Superdraft is nearly upon us and the biggest takeaway so far is the depth and range of talent spread across the 388 players currently listed on the MLS SuperDraft list of eligible players.
This year’s pool of eligible draftees is a bit different from past years. This year, Juniors and Sophomores are eligible to declare for the Superdraft in addition to Seniors and Graduate Students. It is not yet clear if the Generation Adidas players are part of this list or if they will be added later. Still, the quality of the players available for selection by teams this year is unmatched in recent SuperDraft history. Another wrinkle that adds some intrigue to the draft is that players selected in the draft do not have to be signed right away. As long as the player still has eligibility to compete at the college level, they may continue their studies and development at their college program and the club that drafted them has up to two years to sign them to their first contract. We could see a lot of examples of the new “draft-and-stash” strategy on Tuesday with teams taking chances on young players with high upside who may not yet have a clear role at the MLS or MLS NEXT PRO level.
Whether you are a knowledgable fan of college soccer, a proud alumni or current student of a university with a varsity men’s soccer program, or have been following DirtySouthSoccer’s coverage of all things academy, Atlanta United 2, and college soccer prospects, you will likely see a few familiar names and a lot of top-tier college and professional soccer programs listed. A lot of MLS fans and front offices scanning this list will experience a similar sensation, seeing players who they previously felt safe in waiting a few years to sign have now forced their parent clubs and the rest of the league to make a clear decision about their future. In the case of Atlanta United, talented underclassmen like Andrew De Gannes, Rocky Perez, and Brandon Clagette could be lost to another MLS team, or could even be drafted by Atlanta United to secure their rights as the player continues to develop in college. There are accomplished upperclassmen like recent national champions Brandon Parrish and Nathan Richmond of Clemson, UVA’s dynamic attacker Daniel Mangarov, MLS College Showcase invitee Ryan Schewe of Georgetown, and Georgia State goalkeeper Josue Hangi. There are also highly experienced role-players like Chase Oliver (Wake Forest), Miguel Ramirez (Duke), Anthony Reaves (Cornell), Remi Smith (Air Force), and Owen Travis (Florida International). There is also UVA’s very talented starting centerback Aidan O’Connor who we are unsure how we got his rights, but that is certainly something we will look into.
While the former players included on the eligibility list are certainly interesting, what is more interesting is who was not included. Seniors and Graduate Students like Kendall Edwards, Dylan Gaither, Omar Hernandez, Will Crain, Colin Travasos, and Jeremiah Luoma all returned for a final college season after going undrafted last season, but are conspicuously absent. Liam Butts, after going unsigned by the San Jose Earthquakes, also returned to Penn State and is missing from this list. More interestingly to most readers, top prospects like Will Reilly, Matthew Edwards, Nigel Prince, and Grant Howard were conspicuously absent leading us to suspect that Atlanta United chose to retain their rights for at least another season. With Edwards and Reilly entering their senior seasons in 2024, could we see both return as Homegrown Players?
Speaking of Homegrown Players, Garrison Tubbs is a massive boon to this offseason and represents a sort of free top-5 pick in a draft where Atlanta United is picking 19th. With such a low pick, the club may be open to investing in the future on talented youngsters for their second and third-round picks at 19, 48, 72, and 77. Atlanta United acquired the 72nd pick from the New York Red Bulls as part of Andrew Gutman’s loan.
With four picks in the draft, what will Carlos Bocanegra and Garth Lagerway’s strategy be and what positions will they target?
MLSSoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle speculates that Atlanta United will be looking for a left-back, centerback, and goalkeeper. While I don’t disagree with him about the need for depth at those positions, it is far more likely that the Front Office will target experienced and versatile players who would not take up an international slot and show room for growth either within Atlanta United’s development program or with their college for another season. The player would also have to fit our system and player profiles so talented fullbacks like Notre Dame’s Paddy Burns would likely be too much of a traditional fullback option for us despite his quality as a player. I could see us targeting the best player available, especially if a Generation Adidas prospect fell to us like how we signed Eric Centenno with the 19th overall pick in 2022. Also, while I could see us targeting one of our prospects like Brandon Parrish, Andrew De Gannes, or Aidan O’Connor to retain their rights, we will predominantly focus on players who are not affiliated with Atlanta United.
19th Overall Pick
The defense looks closer to being set with Garrison Tubbs returning on a Homegrown Player contract. This group is very young other than Luis Abram and while the club could select an older and more experienced centerback or left-back prospect, it would have to be a player who could lead the 2s while also being ready to play with the first-team early in the season, and it would preferably be a player who could play multiple positions along the backline.
That player could be the University of Washington’s senior centerback Nate Jones.
Jones is an athletic marvel that may remind some fans of a young left-sided Miles Robinson. Standing at 6-foot 3-inches, Jones brings great size, speed, and mobility to the left side of a centerback pairing. Even more importantly, he has been a consistent workhorse for Washington’s backline, starting every match over the past two seasons. He was one of two Washington players invited to this year’s college showcase after being named to the 2023 PAC-12 First Team All-Conference and could easily be a top-10 pick this year. If Jones is available at 19, it would be an absolute coup to be able to pair him with Garrison Tubbs and build a young but highly talented corps of young centerbacks that could all end up playing for their national teams and even overseas in the next five years.
With our midfield also having a lot of youth and a lot of open roster spots, Atlanta could look to add an experienced player with the positional versatility and athleticism to adapt to any need the club may have. This would be a Christian Roldan-type of midfielder. This player would develop alongside Alan Carleton, Jonatan Villal, and other academy prospects like Cooper Sanchez and Julian Bretous with the 2s in 2024 and potentially compete with Will Reilly if he returns in 2025.
Last year, we took a close look at the other Washington University player who received an invitation to this year’s College Soccer Showcase, Kalani Kossa-Rienzi. The Berkeley, California native is potentially a top-15 pick but could still be available when Atlanta is on the board. Originally playing as a striker in high school, he dominated his California competition. In an interview from 2019, his youth coach Andre Herbert described Kossa-Rienzi as a player:
“He plays direct when he needs to. He’s got amazing skills. He’s very smart,” Hebert said. “We play principles and that last principle is know when to break the principles, and he knows when to break that really well. He can wander and he adjusts to the team and the team adjusts to him.”
Before heading to Washington, he was a regular with the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program from 2015-18 and quickly became a core player in a Huskies program known for producing top midfielders and defenders. He has a small frame so he will need to add some strength to adjust to the physicality of the central and defensive midfield at the professional level. He would be an outstanding player to bring in for his versatility, mindset, and potential to become a long-term option on an MLS roster.
Another dynamic midfielder who will probably be picked in the top 12 is Will Reilly’s midfield partner Zach Bohane.
Bohane had a phenomenal season for Stanford as their #10. He is just a Sophomore so he could be allowed to remain with Stanford for another season alongside Reilly until Atlanta signs both after the 2024 college season. If Gonzalo Pineda wants him sooner than that, they will get a high-effort player with great passing and vision who is also capable of creating his own goals scoring 8 goals and adding 11 assists this season. He was the sixth-best player in the country in ball distribution, earning himself PAC-12 First Team All-Conference honors. Bohane could be Atlanta United’s Aidan Morris.
The last player we will cover for the first round could be this year’s Duncan McGuire.
Logan Farrington made the most of his transfer from Milwaukee to one of the best teams in the country Oregon State, elevating his game to become the PAC-12 Player of the Year. He doesn’t have the kind of pedigree as some of his teammates and peers who played for major academies but he has made a major impact at every level he has played so far. Before playing one of the most impressive Freshman seasons in the history of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s men’s soccer program, Farrington was dominating at the high school and club levels. The Horizon League Freshman of the Year continued to accumulate honors like the 2020 United Soccer Coaches All-North Region Second Team and as a member of the Horizon League First-Team and All-Freshmen squads, and the 2021 and 2022 Horizon League First-Team All-Conference squad before transferring to Oregon State for his final season. Now surrounded by top-level talent in the PAC-12, Farrington scored 15 goals and added 7 assists in 21 matches, nearly reaching the College Cup Finals.
Farrington’s profile as a tall target forward with the ability to score and create for teammates perfectly fits what Atlanta already has in Giorgios Giakoumakis and Jamal Thiare. The club could use a younger project as the third center forward on the roster with the ability to score off the bench that they haven’t had since Brandon Vazquez. After watching Farrington in high-profile matches against Stanford, Washington, and North Carolina, the Vazquez comparison may be the most fitting for this young talent who could be a raw but prolific scorer for Atlanta right now and could develop into a dominant target forward in his prime.
48th Overall Pick
Each player we will discuss here could be a first-round pick in any other year but the depth of this draft, the complexity of the rights retention rules, and the reluctance of front offices to use international slots on draft picks may drop talented players into later rounds.
One of those international players who may be available is the University of Virginia’s Mouhameth Thiam. Before arriving in Charlottesville this Fall, the Senegalese midfielder was mesmerizing fans and opponents out West at Oregon State. At Oregon State, he racked up 15 goals and 13 assists over 48 matches, and continued that impressive run at UVA with an additional 4 goals and 5 assists. He is fast, agile, highly skilled on the ball, and dangerous in how he can flip the field in an instant with a daring run or precisely placed ball on a counterattack. UVA likes to play a tiki-taka style of possession and build-up that requires good touch, intelligent movement, and quickness to effectively advance up the pitch.
“[Thiam] can wiggle with the ball and break lines by himself,” Coach George Gelnovatch said to the Cavalier Daily. “We don’t need two or three passes to break their lines. He’s a guy by himself that can do it.”
Playing as an inverted winger, Thiam has the freedom to drift inside to find the channel where a box-to-box midfielder would roam. He is smart, competitively aggressive, and could become the kind of dynamic modern positionless player that would work well in Pineda’s system, especially after seeing the new freedom of movement Brooks Lennon has to find the ball centrally in the opponent’s box. While Clemson’s Ousmane Sylla may be getting most of the attention right now, Atlanta United would strike gold by drafting the 2023 ACC Co-Midfielder of the Year.
So, with that said, let’s get ourselves a goalkeeper.
With the signings of Josh Cohen and Quentin Westburg, Atlanta United has a full goalkeeper room at the first-team level, though the future of Guzan and Westburg with the club is likely limited to the end of the 2024 season. Atlanta has some high-quality academy-level talent in Jonathan Ransom (U-17), Nash Skoglund (U-19), Kyle Jansen (committed to Syracuse), James Donaldson (USYNT U-15 starter), and Owen Barnett (committed to Wake Forest), but could use an experienced goalkeeper to bridge the age gap between these very young prospects and their senior teammates.
Wake Forest’s Trace Alphin offers the ideal blend of experience, shot-stopping ability, and skill with the ball at his feet to be an ideal fit for what Atlanta United is looking for from a goalkeeper. Alphin took on the challenging goalkeeping role in the Wake Forest pro-style possession system as a Freshman, starting 16 of the 17 matches he appeared in. Since then, he has started every match for the Demon Deacons, forming a close bond with his defensive captain Garrison Tubbs to hold opponents to a 0.90 goals against average across 19 matches in 2023. This included four straight clean sheets with three of the four matches against ACC opponents. While Notre Dame’s Bryan Dowd may be seen as the more polished of the two, Alphin has the athleticism and technical ability on the ball to become the next Patrick Schulte. The best possible outcome for him will be if a team like Atlanta United gives him time in 2024 and 2025 to develop into their future starter.
If drafted in the second or third round, Alphin could sign an MLS NEXT PRO contract with Atlanta United 2 and be a leader for a young team hoping to prove they are worthy of playing at the Benz.
Wake Forest’s Hosei Kijima or Jahlane Forbes could also be excellent options for Atlanta. Kijima co-captained Wake Forest alongside Garrison Tubbs and started every match of the 2023 season in the midfield, harnessing his above-average ball retention and passing ability to link Tubbs or goalkeeper Trace Alphin with Wake Forest’s dynamic attackers. He has a steadying presence on the pitch and fantastic explosiveness with the ball. His movement off the ball creates space for his teammates while finding openings for himself, and he also brings tireless energy to the counter-press to immediately win back the ball after a turnover. While his defense may need to improve to play a defensive midfield or fullback role, he has the tools to develop into a versatile reserve ready to be plugged in wherever he is needed.
Forbes also offers the same tireless and selfless mentality and physicality as Kijima and Tubbs. Forbes is listed as a left-back on the MLS Draft list but he would tell you that he is a midfielder willing to play anywhere on the pitch to help his team win. His story is very similar to that of Tubbs, earning starting minutes in his Freshman year and then starting at several positions wherever he was needed over the next three seasons. In his Junior year, he led the team with six assists from 20 starts, and in 2023, he topped that with 5 goals and 7 assists in 18 starts. Forbes offers the athleticism, dynamism, and attacking punch that Atlanta looks for in their fullbacks. He could be brought in as the left-sided Aidan McFadden to be a backstop for when Caleb Wiley is away with the United States Olympic squad in the summer.
Another veteran leader for Atlanta’s next generation of academy talents should be the University of North Carolina’s Riley Thomas.
Thomas is an Atlanta native with an impeccable record of consistency and reliability for his team. In his four years with UNC, he has played nearly every minute for the club as a centerback and right-back, accruing almost 6000 minutes across his collegiate career. The United Futbol Academy and Georgia United product is a leader on and off the field like Garrison Tubbs. Alongside fellow UNC defender and Atlanta native Matthew Edwards, Thomas led one of the best defensive units in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Though he primarily plays as a right-sided centerback, he played the entirety of his final season at right-back, showing the mobility and defensive ability to manage the speedy and dangerous attackers of the ACC. If drafted by Atlanta, Thomas will start the year as the leader of Atlanta United 2, probably shifting between centerback and right-back as needed as the club develops what could become an entirely homegrown defense within a few seasons.
The other Atlanta native who will close out this draft preview is James Madison’s Josiah Blanton.
If Atlanta misses out on Nate Jones in the first round, Blanton may be a good consolation prize further down the draft. Though primarily used as a left-back, Blanton has the size and defensive skill to become a left-sided centerback in Pineda’s scheme. This season, Blanton started 18 of the 19 matches he played, leading a stout defense that had only given up 23 goals in 19 matches to the second round of the College Cup tournament before losing 0-1 to Georgetown. If Blanton is still available this late in the draft, he may be willing to spend another year at James Madison or primarily play with Atlanta United 2 in 2024 to be close to his hometown of Roswell.
That wraps up our 2024 MLS SuperDraft preview. The draft will be held on Tuesday, December 19 at 3 pm ET and can be viewed on MLS Season Pass or followed online with the MLS SuperDraft Tracker on MLSSoccer.com. We will also release updates as Atlanta United makes their picks, along with a look at the class once the draft is over.
In the meantime, what do you want Atlanta United to do now that the draft has more quality and relevance than in previous years? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.