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Who Could Follow Adyn Torres as the Next Atlanta United Homegrown Player?

Atlanta United adds another Homegrown Midfielder

Just like how George Bello (‘02), Machop Chol (‘98), and Caleb Wiley (‘04) marked major milestones for the Atlanta United Academy system, Adyn Torres (‘07) becomes the first product of the club’s Regional Development School initiative to sign a professional contract with Atlanta United.

A product of the Gwinnett Soccer Academy, Torres has had a meteoric rise, impressing at every level so far in the academy. After earning a Best XI Team selection at the 2022 U-15 Generations Adidas Cup almost one year ago, he was called up for his first US Youth National Team training camp in January with the U-16s.

“Adyn is a talented young player who has continued to progress throughout his time with our Academy,” Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said. “We’re excited for him to join ATL UTD 2 and compete in MLS NEXT Pro this season as he takes the next step in his development.”

Torres is part of an exciting group of players born in 2007 like Ashton Gordon, Julian Bretous, and Jason Argueta who are already drawing the attention of CONCACAF youth national teams, and other dynamic teammates like Rocket Ritarita, Nathan Gray, and Joseph Gonzalez who continue to impress at the U-16 level.

Though he is yet to make his official Atlanta United 2 regular season debut, Torres has trained with both the first and second teams. He is a versatile midfielder capable of playing as a central midfielder or holding midfielder, or even as a centerback in a 3-man back line. Like Ajani Fortune (‘02), he is a tough and intelligent player willing to fight for every inch but also technically skilled enough to become a midfield general. He has strong instincts for his age and shows great awareness and capacity for movement on and off of the ball which positions him well in transition. He is aggressive in driving the ball forward and winning the ball back and is explosive in his ability to leave opposing midfielders in the dust with a turn and cut that is more about making than right move rather than just raw speed. Torres will join a 2s team that is increasingly filled with intriguing midfield prospects like Fortune, Alan Carleton (‘05), Jonny Villal (‘05), and 14-year-old academy prospect Cooper Sanchez (‘08). As the club continues to seek midfield depth at the MLS level, a wave of reinforcements may be on the way within the next few seasons with Torres set to join the MLS roster as soon as the preseason.

In our last predictions article, Torres was in our honorable mentions section. Now, as we look to the future to try to predict the next professional signing from the academy, we can see a clear pathway and player type emerge. Even before Garth Lagerway’s arrival, the club was increasingly experimenting with signing academy talents to their first professional contracts with Atlanta United 2. After beginning as an assortment of older trialist reserves playing alongside a handful of academy products, Atlanta United 2 has undergone a radical shift in roster-building philosophy to one dominated by signed and unsigned teenagers with a handful of “older” experienced players from the college ranks like Aidain McFadden or more recently the American fourth division like Toni Tiente who act as mentors and player-coaches to their young teammates.

Most of the newly signed academy prospects were “lifers” with the Academy, growing from the U-12s or before in the system. Some of those players like Villal, Carleton, David Mejia, and Vicente Reyes were given more time to develop with the 2s without the roster pressure of a Homegrown deal, while Wiley, Cobb, and Brennan signed their 2s deals with Homegrown Player contracts already attached. For our next signing, which could come as early as this summer or as late as the close of the college season in January, we must consider how the flexibility the 2s now offer the club and the players in their development timeline has expanded the pool of players we have to consider.

With that said, Vicente Reyes (‘03) seems the most deserving of a first-team contract of our 2s players.

He has patiently and productively spent his time with Atlanta United 2 improving his already-advanced shot-stopping ability and becoming a more capable distributor with the ball at his feet. So far this season, he has developed a strong partnership with academy products Noah Cobb and Efrain Morales playing as the centerback pair in front of him. There is a lot of excitement at the club about this trio which could become the starting defensive anchor of the MLS club by 2025. The academy is very deep at goalkeeper at the moment with Kyle Jansen getting call-ups to the South African U-17s and Nash Skoglund and Jonathan Ranson continuing to excel. With the first team full of short-term options at the position and Justin Garces working his way back from an ACL injury, the time feels right for the club to begin the youth movement at the goalkeeper position.

Atlanta United could also return to being a factory of defensive talent if Wake Forest’s captain Garrison Tubbs (‘02) returns after his senior campaign.

A four-year starter on the backline of one of the perennial powers of college soccer, Tubbs immediately carried his strong momentum from Atlanta United 2 to the Atlantic Coast Conference. With the club likely looking for experienced depth at centerback this off-season they would do well to bring Tubbs back into the fold. Tubbs is a highly intelligent player, a gifted leader on and off the field, and has the kind of athletic profile to cover both large bruising forwards and smaller quick attackers. Atlanta United could also look to their academy with fullbacks Shawn Lanza (‘06) and Malachi Grant (‘06) offering compelling options to become the next Homegrown fullback to follow in the path of Bello and Wiley. Lanza just made his 2s debut with a strong start at left-back and Grant was one of two Atlanta United players called up by Jamaica’s U-17 team for the CONCACAF U-17s Championship. Both need more time to develop but offer a lot of intriguing talent going forward.

A potential darkhorse (or galaxy brain, depending on your point of view) defensive signing could come from one of Atlanta United’s trio of attacking midfielder prospects that will graduate from college at the end of this season. Dylan Gaither (‘00), Omar Hernandez (‘01), and Daniel Mangarov (‘02) all fit the profile of attacking college prospects like Julian Gressel, Aidan McFadden, and Tyler Young whom the club has attempted to convert to fullbacks. We talked in the last Homegrown article about the offensive explosion likely to come from the pairing of Dylan Gaither and Omar Hernandez on the same team in Macon. Gaither will likely play a hybrid wing-10 role and Hernandez is likely to be the central passing and free-kick specialist. The University of Virginia’s Daniel Mangarov has shown his strong passing ability and counterattacking speed as an attacking midfielder at UNC Greensboro and UVA and could get even more attacking freedom with his former academy teammate Brendan Lambe joining the UVA midfield. While it is more likely that all three enter the draft, it would fit our recent draft strategy if one of them returns as a wingback.

Behind Reyes and Tubbs, Jonny Villal (‘05) feels like the third most exciting prospect yet to sign a Homegrown contract. Villal feels like an Almada-lite and could fill a similar role as a goal-creating force at the attacking midfield spot through direct goal contributions and high numbers of assists. One of the biggest areas where Villal could improve is learning how to avoid the kinds of teeth-rattling challenges that have limited his availability the last two seasons. If Villal could stay healthy, Atlanta United could have a legitimate Homegrown #10 prospect.

A handful of other midfielders to keep an eye on are recent 2s debutants Cooper Sanchez (‘08) and Pavel Romero (‘06), 2s signing Alan Carleton (‘05), U-17 Haitian international Julian Bretous (‘07), and our old favorite Will Reilly (‘02). Most of the unsigned academy players are likely to follow Carleton’s route of a multi-year MLS NEXT PRO contract with the 2s. Though signing their first contract with the club would mean foregoing the amateur status necessary for college soccer players, it would allow these players some professional security with their home club as they continue their development. Some won’t make it past this phase of their Atlanta United journey but they could potentially showcase enough of their talent to find a spot in the increasingly competitive USL Championship. Alan Carleton signed a deal that may have him in line for a Homegrown deal at the same time as Will Reilly at the start of the 2025 season. Reilly will have completed his senior campaign at Stanford by that offseason and Carleton will have completed his second professional season with the 2s. The club will have two intriguing midfield options between these two players at that point.

We close out this list of players with two intriguing center forward options in the academy. Danial Sebhatu (‘05) may have already heard his name called if it wasn’t for an injury-ended 2022 season, but he closed the year with the U-19s in the UPSL Georgia Premier division playoffs. Sebhatu joined preseason training with the first team and seems but has been surprisingly absent from the 2s so far in 2023 even with the recent injury to Erik Lopez. The other forward we are watching closely is Jamaican U-17 Ashton Gordon (‘07). Gordon, like his fellow class of 2007 teammates gained a lot of attention from their underdog run at the Generation Adidas Cup in 2022. Like several of his teammates, his strong 2022 earned him a chance to compete at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship where he played mostly on the right wing for Jamaica, scoring a goal against Cuba in one of the four matches he played at the tournament. Gordon can also play at center forward where he brought freakish athleticism and a dangerous tenacity in the counter-press during the Generation Adidas Tournament run. With the MLS club desperately needing a consistent scoring threat to back-up Giorgios Giakoumakis, one can only hope that our academy can begin producing that kind of depth.

Another pool of players we did not explore in this article is the former academy players who are now competing in 4th division teams around the southeast. Beginning with Jack Gurr, Atlanta United began to tap into the growing pool of domestic and international players plying their trade in America’s highest amateur level of the game. While leagues like the NPSL, UPSL, and USL League 2 offer valuable offseason experience for college athletes, they are also home to a growing number of college graduates, academy graduates, immigrants, and non-MLS academy talents who could become useful depth in the professional ranks. Over the last couple of years, Atlanta United’s U-19s departed the MLS NEXT competition system to play exclusively against 4th division teams in Georgia. The 2s continue to tap into this player pool with Toni Tiente, Karim Timimi, and Kofi Twumasi all earning starting roles. Twumasi may even earn a 1st team contract at the end of this season.

Former academy players like Alhaji Tambadu, Lio Touroude, and Josh Francombe have already made their way back to the club through the UPSL Georgia side so it is only a matter of time before one of these players earns a professional contract with the 2s.

As you can see from this prospect review, midfield and goalkeeper have become two deep and exciting positions for the organization and fans to monitor. With clear needs on the MLS team at each position group, chances are that at least a couple of these guys will hear their names called at the Benz in the next couple of seasons.

In the comments below, let us know which of these players you most want to see suiting up at the Benz in 2024 and which player you feel is most likely to be our next Homegrown Player.