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Atlanta United College Soccer Preview 2023

Previewing the fall season for Atlanta United’s college prospects

NC State v Wake Forest Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The college soccer season is almost upon us. Hence, it is time for us to check in on the growing pool of Atlanta United prospects continuing their development in the collegiate ranks.

This will be the deepest group of college players Atlanta United has ever had with 17 seniors and at least 9 players returning with graduate school eligibility or as 5th-year seniors including Penn State forward Liam Butts who was drafted by San Jose but went unsigned. With familiar names like Dylan Gaither, Omar Hernandez, Will Crain, Kendall Edwards, Jeremiah Luoma, Luke Mitchell, Colin Travasos, and Brant Zulauf all returning for their final year of eligibility, this will be a packed class of potential Superdraft picks.

With most college soccer matches returning to ESPN+ this season, following Atlanta United’s growing pool of collegiate talent has never been simpler. The University of South Carolina remains a hotspot of Atlanta United exports under former Academy Director Tony Annan, as do Georgia State, Mercer, Wake Forest, University of Virginia, Air Force Academy, and Clemson. Luckily for followers of the 5-Stripes, our former academy players are regularly featuring in college soccer’s top leagues like the ACC, B1G Ten, and PAC 12. The leagues are loaded with some of the nation’s top talent and regularly feature quality matches on par with MLS NEXT PRO or USL League One competition. Atlanta United players feature on 7 of the top-25 Division-I teams in the country with freshman defender Joel Gonzalez joining the #3 ranked University of Kentucky, senior forward Miguel Ramirez with #4 Duke, junior midfielder Will Reilly with #7 Stanford, senior defender Luke Mitchell with #8 Creighton, freshmen Remi Okunlola and Mathieu Brick with #9 Clemson, a handful of players with #15 Virginia, and Garrison Tubbs and Chase Oliver with #18 Wake Forest, with Oregon State and South Carolina also receiving votes.

NC State v Wake Forest Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

For fans most interested in future Homegrown signings the most important senior to watch is Wake Forest centerback Garrison Tubbs. Tubbs was selected as the team captain prior to the start of the season and has regularly received praise from his coach and teammates for being a great leader on and off the field with a high soccer IQ, earning him the 2022-23 Walt Chyzowych’s Award for Leadership & Character. Tubbs was one of five players on his team to start all 20 minutes during the season, recording a team-high 1,750 minutes on the way to 8 clean sheets. He added two goals and two assists and was named an All-ACC second-team and United Soccer Coaches All-South Region first-team selection. As a high-character player with a lot of strong experience, Tubbs feels like a near-lock to join a core group of young Atlanta centerbacks hoping to become Atlanta’s next star defender. With the futures of Miles Robinson, Juanjo Purata, and Luis Abram unclear, Atlanta United could use all of the help they can get on their backline in 2024.

In fact, Atlanta United could potentially sign a defensive Homegrown player from college every year for the next three seasons with the University of North Carolina’s Matthew Edwards making a strong case to return in 2025, and Virginia Tech’s Grant Howard impressing in his freshman campaign after breaking out with the 2s last summer. Fans should also keep an eye on Northwestern’s uber-athletic centerback Nigel Prince.

Garrison Tubbs and fellow Wake Forest senior forward Chase Oliver will have some extremely tough competition in the ACC this year full of familiar faces.

Not only will they have to battle against the imposing centerback duo of Matthew Edwards and Atlanta local Riley Thomas when they play the University of North Carolina, but they will also face graduate transfer Collin Travasos who is taking over in net for the Tar Heels after a long career with the Cal Berkeley Bruins. Kendall Edwards and Jeremia Luoma are also back with an NC State team that may not challenge for a championship but they are loaded with experience that will prove difficult to defeat. Clemson has reloaded with a strong freshman class including fullback Remi Okunlola and versatile defender Mathieu Brick who excelled with the academy and with the 2s. Both of those guys have what it takes to play professionally. Then there’s Miguel Ramirez who seems due to break out after playing as a backup for his entire career with Duke.

The most daunting challenge for Wake Forest could come from the University of Virginia midfield. After transferring to UVA from UNC Greensboro in 2022, Daniel Mangarov exploded onto the scene, proving that the jump from the Southern Conference to the ACC was not too big for him. After missing the season opener, he started the following 18 matches for over 1500 minutes played, adding three goals and four assists. He is a brilliant passer and a dynamic option in the attacking midfield. He thrives in transition moments when he can play forwards into space, and when supported by a workhorse of a central midfielder, he will tend to play higher on defense with the center forward, ready to switch the field in an instant when the ball turns over. Luckily, he just got that kind of midfield partner in Brendan Lambe who arrives at UVA after playing last season with North Carolina FC’s U-19 team. Fans of the 2s will remember Lambe’s bulldog style of play, a tireless worker who sought to dominate the center of the pitch. Lambe takes the place of Asparuh Slavov who transferred to George Mason of the Atlantic 10 Conference in the Spring. Mangarov will also have a highly dynamic wide speedster in Amari Salley who went unused last season but is looking to breakout in his Sophomore season. If Mangarov and UVA have another strong season, he may be in a three-way race to see which of the dynamic attacking midfield prospects Atlanta has in this graduating class is drafted or signed first. Even though the two teams are not scheduled to meet during the regular season, this potential ACC Championship matchup will be a must-watch.

The midfielder we continue to monitor closely is Stanford’s Will Reilly. Reilly had a breakout Sophomore season playing a box-to-box role that got him further forward than what we regularly saw with the 2s. Gone are the days of Reilly dropping in between the central defenders and acting as the team’s metronome. Now, we see him flying all over the field, scoring a brace against a decent University of California team. This brace accounted for two of his three goals on the year with another three assists added. Overall, he started all 20 matches and was an important part of a Stanford offense that ranked eighth nationally in total goals (46), 12th in scoring offense (2.30), 13th in goal differential (+27), and 14th in shots on goal per game (6.80). Stanford does an excellent job developing forwards and midfielders, and it seems Reilly will be another one to watch. If I have anything to say about it, he will be a Homegrown player for us in 2025. Two opportunities for fans to watch Reilly play will be when Stanford matches up against Oregon State on September 17th and October 19th. Fans may get a chance to see 2s regular Andrew De Gannes and one of DSS’s favorite academy players Italo Jenkins. Standing at 6 feet and weighing 210 pounds, Jenkins could be described as a mountain on the college soccer field and could have a similar impact to what Daryl Dike brought to his two seasons at UVA.

The other two #10s are teaming up in Macon with Omar Hernandez departing Wake Forest for his final season to join former academy teammate and fellow attacking wizard Dylan Gaither. Injuries nearly canceled Hernandez’s season in 2022 but within minutes of taking the field, he launched a free kick that would make Messi and Almada proud. Now in the Southern Conference, Hernandez will likely push Gaither out to a wide-forward spot where the two of them can give opposing coaches and defenders anxiety that will haunt them for years. They have a fairly tame schedule this year so they may have a good chance at making a run in the NCAA Tournament in December. Hernandez and Gaither will be supported in the midfield by 5th-year senior Natnael McDonald who will look to finally become a regular starter for the first time in his collegiate career after transferring from Akron ahead of the 2021 season. Mercer has some fun match-ups on their schedule for Atlanta United fans this year with an away match at Georgia Southern on September 19th and at home against Georgia State on October 4th.

Georgia Southern went into a heavy decline over the last few years after being a fairly consistent program in the 2010s. It was a hotbed for the first few waves of academy players leaving for college but that relationship diminished as Alhaji Tambadu graduated and other academy players transferred away from the program or left soccer altogether. That trend maybe be shifting with the addition of Ty Wilson and AJ Pama in this freshman class. Wilson is a dynamic, speedy, and capable scoring threat who played mostly as a forward for Atlanta United with some experience in attacking midfield roles. Pama was a standout defender for the U-19s in NPSL competition last season and will bring an immediate upgrade to the GSU defense.

The best Georgia-based team may end up being Atlanta’s own Georgia State. On paper, this is potentially the strongest Georgia State team we have seen so far. The most exciting player on the field for Georgia State is their Sophomore #10 Justin McLean. Even though McLean was often overshadowed by some of his academy teammates, he has become the focal point of his college side. He started 17 of the 19 matches he played in his freshman season, accumulating nearly 1000 minutes across all competitions with 3 goals and 5 assists. McLean brings a combination of size, speed, and technical ability to the attacking midfield that allows him to ride challenges, run around some defenders, and challenge for the ball on the ground and in the air. In his second season, he needs to add greater consistency in his finishing and find a way to connect with speedy forward and wing options like his academy teammate Matthew Taylor to overwhelm and bury Sun Belt Conference competition. The attackers on this team should have plenty of opportunities with a stout and experienced defense behind them. Sophomore centerback Evan Schroeder will likely return to his role as one of the three centerbacks in GSU’s backline alongside two seniors. Schroeder joined Atlanta’s U-17s as a trialist and fought his way into the academy with consistently strong growth across each match. He is reliable, tidy, and has good vision to connect with players upfield. He is a dark horse candidate for fans to watch. This defensive group will be anchored by the highly athletic and now highly experience Josue Hangi, who has put in a ton of time and effort to keep his development on track with the Georgia Revolution after transferring out of a bad situation at Akron in 2021. Fans should circle September 22nd on the calendar when Georgia State travel to Columbia to face Tony Annan’s University of South Carolina.

Annan is building something special in South Carolina. While this team may still not be ready to challenge for an NCAA title, they are actively and successfully recruiting an intriguing pool of young talent and experienced veterans. Annan relies on a veteran group of Will Crain, Junior Sainte-Juste, and now graduate transfer Brant Zulauf to act as player coaches on the field, using their familiarity with Annan’s system to offer a calming influence on their younger teammates. For a young starter like Rocky Perez, having these kinds of players around him allowed him to grow into his role as a dominant central midfield leader, starting every game in his freshman season, and using his fiery on-field presence to antagonize and lock down opponents in the center third of the field. His midfield partner and former academy teammate Christiano Bruletti transferred to Michigan State in the offseason to move closer to home so Perez will likely partner with the Danish duo of 5th-year senior Laurits Lillemose at the 6 and Peter Clement at the 10. Sophomore forward Bryce Griffith will also hope to continue to grow his role within the team after starting 5 matches in 16 appearances. Standing at 6’2”, Griffith is a big forward who scored buckets of goals with the academy and is looking to repeat his academy success at the college level. He has the type of athleticism and physical make-up to potentially become a player like Orlando’s Duncan McGuire. In addition to their matchup against Georgia State, the Gamecocks will face NC State in an exhibition match on August 13th and their in-state rivals Clemson on September 1st before diving into their Sun Belt Conference schedule.

That wraps up our preview of the 2023 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.