Last week we took our best guesses at who Atlanta United may pick in the upcoming MLS Superdraft ahead of the official release of eligible draftees. Now armed with the released list of 176 players and finalized trio of Generation Adidas players, we can use what we discussed last week to figure out who Eales and company may be most interested in bringing to Atlanta.
First, a few interesting tidbits from the new list. As you will notice, there are quite a few players with USL experience on this list. It seems that a year of forgoing the draft and signing directly with USL sides does not preclude a player’s eligibility for a subsequent draft. In Atlanta United 2’s case, midfielder Daniel Steedman is among the players who may be claimed by another team. We have run into issues with this in previous seasons where signings, draft claims, and homegrown rights overlapped (see the case of Dylan Castanheira in 2019), but this is the first time a player currently on the 2’s could potentially be lost through a draft.
The second point worth noting is that there are two players who are listed as being part of Atlanta United 2 who, to our knowledge, have no publicly known affiliation with the club. Perhaps this newly released list has preempted Atlanta United’s announcement of two new 2’s players ahead of the 2021 season. The players in question are Chris Allan (University of Charleston) and Javian Brown (University of South Florida). Allan is a division three central midfielder from England and Brown is a Jamaican youth international right-back who has most recently appeared for Jamaica’s U-23 team. Both could be intriguing low-cost depth for the team that saw Jack Gurr, a Division III player from Gwinnett College, make the jump to a CONCACAF Champions League reserve in just one season. Perhaps these two players are our next Gurr and Baboucarr Njie.
Anyway, back to the reason we are all here. Who will Atlanta United draft with the 5th overall pick?
Last week, we all got very excited about the University of Washington’s Ethan Bartlow, an athletic central defender with strong abilities with the ball at his feet and a good eye for distribution. Much to our dismay, he was not among the group of players who will be available in the draft in spite of excelling at the College Invitational Combine. He was likely one of the players rumored to be in talks for a Generation Adidas contract but decided to wait for another year before signing.
With that great disappointment out of the way, we have plenty of reason for excitement about a good potential alternative to him who will be available as a top-5 pick. We are in complete agreement with SBI Soccer in stating that Josh Bauer of the University of New Hampshire would be a strong selection for Atlanta United at #5.
The New England Soccer Journal heralds Bauer as the region of New England’s most accomplished soccer product since the Chicago Fire’s Wyatt Omsberg. Over just three seasons in college Bauer piled on awards and accolades starting in 2017 with the America East All-Rookie Team and finishing with a 2019 United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American as captain of the team. He is also only the second player ever to be named the America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player twice.
Bauer has good speed and positioning and can use his height well in offensive set-piece opportunities. In 2019, Bauer put up respectable numbers for a defensive player with 4 goals on 20 shots (9 on goal) and 5 assists. That is great value production from the centerback position.
During the COVID-shortened 2020 season and disrupted college season, Bauer decided to forgo his senior season with New Hampshire and begin his professional career early as a late-season signing for the Birmingham Legion. Though he only made three brief appearances for Birmingham, gaining professional training experience will give him a competitive advantage over some of his collegiate peers in earning his spot in preseason camp. On top of all of that, he is a domestic player so drafting Bauer will not require the club to use an international player slot. For those reasons, Bauer feels like a good fit.
In the 2nd and 3rd Rounds, Atlanta United will have some choices to make. Most of the players available will not be MLS-ready unless a Generation Adidas player or international senior falls down draft boards. Atlanta’s best course of action here is to look toward the future with players who could immediately fit on the 2’s roster with the chance of working their way to the first team training camp in 2022. We are looking for valuable depth.
By drafting Pannenberg, the team would have more depth and flexibility to move Ben Lundgaard fully to the #3 goalkeeper spot on the first-team roster. Pannenberg would bring a wealth of experience to another young 2’s side and would be a strong workout partner for rising academy prospect Vicente Reyes. With UVA’s Colin Shutler likely to be gone at this point, Pannenberg is easily the next best option at the position.
Finally with the 59th pick, Atlanta United could look to repeat their success with small-school full-backs on the rise with Florida Gulf Coast’s Titouan Le Menec.
If selected, Le Menec will become one of the oldest players on the 2’s and will likely compete with Jack Gurr, Lamin Jawneh, and Caleb Wiley as part of the fullback rotation. Le Menec can play on both the left and right sides of a 4-man defensive group and also has experience as a defensive midfielder. Le Menec began his development with French second division side Stade Brestois’s academy before joining Bluefield of the National Christian College Athletic Association. His strong play in an inferior college league earned him a transfer to FGCU where he started nearly every match in each of his next two seasons as a right-back and right-winger.
The first round of the draft will be streamed live on MLSsoccer.com, the MLS App, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pluto TV on Jan. 21 at 2 pm ET with the second and third rounds continuing on the MLS Draft Tracker. We will report the picks as they happen and will likely argue amongst ourselves about players we have never heard of before after it is all over.
Until then, let us know who you are excited about drafting and what positions the team should look to target.