The 2022 Superdraft has come and gone, and Atlanta United seems to have defied all expectations with their strategy on the day. The team entered the draft with four picks across the three-round draft, the fourth being a compensatory pick received in exchange for the Homegrown rights to Will Vint, a midfielder acquired by the Colorado Rapids in 2020 in a trade and subsequently signed and later released by the Rapids. Not only did the club use all four of their picks, they used all four on attacking players.
Early predictions for Atlanta United ranged from the club drafting goalkeepers to our speculation that the club would concentrate on adding depth through the spine of the team. After signing UCLA goalkeeper Justin Garces to a Homegrown contract, the club opted to focus on wide attacking players for the majority of their picks beginning with the #19 pick from University of the Pacific, Erik Centeno.
Rd. 1 Erik Centeno - Pacific University (RW)
Congratulations to our very own Tiger, Erik Centeno, after being drafted 19th overall in the first round of the 2022 MLS Superdraft! #GoTigers | #PacificProud | #UpRoar pic.twitter.com/zpSDlSKGcn— Pacific Men's Soccer (@PacificMSoccer) January 11, 2022
The Stockton, Calif. native was the last of the 2022 Generation Adidas class to be selected in this year’s draft and seems to offer fantastic value for Atlanta United. As a Generation Adidas player, he will not count against the salary cap for the duration of his GA contract and as a domestic player, will have the flexibility to develop without being rushed into service. As a freshman in 2021, Centeno started and appeared in all 16 games for the Pacific Tigers. He recorded six goals and five assists, led the team in points, and was named Freshman Player of the Year for the West Coast Conference. He brings a bit of pedigree with him, too, having previously featured and trained with both the USL’s Sacramento Republic and the FC Dallas Academy.
In the post-draft press conference, Carlos Bocanegra praised Centeno as a tricky player with great moves in the attacking half of the field. When asked where Centeno best fit on the field for Atlanta United, Bocanegra said that Centeno’s ability to get to the touch line and cross balls into dangerous areas is something they want to take advantage of so they intend to keep him upfield as a wide attacking player. When looking at his college highlight reel, it is easy to understand what the team sees in this exciting 19-year-old prospect.
Rd. 2 Tristan Trager - Air Force Academy (F/W)
He’s headed to @ATLUTD ‼️ pic.twitter.com/dpecImTahD— Air Force Men’s Soccer (@AF_MSOC) January 11, 2022
With the 47th overall pick, Atlanta United selected Tristan Trager from Air Force. We highlighted Trager as a potential pick in our draft preview. The 5-foot-11 attacking midfielder scored 13 goals and had seven assists as a senior, earning Offensive Player of the Year honors for the Western Athletic Conference and First Team All-WAC for the 2021-22 season.
Trager can play as both an attacking midfielder and as a False-9, able to range out wide or run up the gut of a defense as needed. He can help with build-up play if needed and can also occupy the attention of opposing centerbacks to open space for teammates to run in behind him. Overall, Trager would bring an experienced and athletic attacking presence to the club and could be an affordable depth option to start the season with the 2s alongside Darwin Matheus. He may be asked to play a similar role to the False-9 role Mathias Benitez played for Atlanta United 2 last season.
Rd. 3 Danny Bloyou - Penn State (F)
DANNYYYY!!!— Penn State Men’s Soccer (@PennStateMSOC) January 11, 2022
With the 75th overall pick, @ATLUTD select Danny Bloyou!#WeAre pic.twitter.com/bBMYsVWGsF
With the 75th overall pick, Atlanta United selected 5’-8” forward Daniel Bloyou from Penn State where he played along Atlanta United Academy product Liam Butts. In 2021, he appeared in 20 matches for Penn State, starting 11, helping Penn State reach the NCAA tournament this past season with four goals and added seven assists. including a goal in the team’s second round playoff loss to Hofstra. Bloyou, originally from Ghana, spent five seasons with the Philadelphia Union youth academy, and attended Old Dominion University before transferring to Penn State.
Bloyou seems to be another wide attacking option for the team who attacks the touchline and tries to feed teammates in front of the goal. He has a direct style of play that will suit the 2s and will offer good competition for our academy players.
Rd. 3 Tola Showunmi - New Hampshire (F)
Congratulations to Tola Showunmi for being drafted by @ATLUTD with the 88th overall pick in the 2022 @MLS #SuperDraft!#DelayedNotDenied #UNHPros pic.twitter.com/W61SJwqAN6— UNH Men's Soccer (@UNHMSoccer) January 12, 2022
With the 88th overall pick, Atlanta United returned to the University of New Hampshire for the second-straight draft to select 6’-3” forward Tola Showunmi. The Enfield, England native was named 2021 America East Striker of the Year and selected to the All-Northeast Region First Team and America East All-Conference First Team. His team-high 10 goals during the 2021 season led New Hampshire to a program-best 17 wins, an appearance in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament and a no. 9 ranking in the final United Soccer Coaches National poll of the season.
The tall, lanky forward can play across a front-three and brings a similar feel and skillset that fans relished in Mackey Diop. With his size, there is a little bit of awkwardness in his movement and touch but he still has the tools to put the ball in the back of the net. One intriguing aspect to his game is that he loves to sneak into the opponent’s back post where he feasts on headers and tap-ins. Due to his physical profile and make-up Showunmi becomes immediate competition for Machop Chol. It is likely we will see both players take the field for the 2s in 2022 with each adding a lot of size up-front for what had previously been a shorter side.
The team returns to the training field on Tuesday so we will be excitedly watching to see how these young players are able to adjust to the professional game. Most are probably bound for contracts with Atlanta United 2 since the first team is short on roster spots and still has holes to fill. But that is not the expectation for these guys. As Bocanegra said, we have to manage expectations for these young players and give them the time and space they need to adapt, develop, and show they belong through hard work on and off of the field.
Congratulations to each of these players and welcome to Atlanta!