Last year, we started this article with a simple statement, that fans were about to watch the history of 5-Stripes. This was true then with the local signings of seniors Matchup Chol and Bryce Washington, and it may be true this year as well but with a growing number of eligible Superdraft players who may earn the honor of being the first-ever Atlanta United Academy product selected in the MLS Superdraft. Last year, Mercer midfielder Karev Richards was the first player to be included in the draft but not selected. This year there are quite a few players, many of whom are solid options for local players or Atlanta United 2 signings if they can evade drafting by another club.
We start with the most decorated and perhaps the most prepared for this class of seniors, Clemson left-back Charlie Asensio. Launching from the second championship of his “amateur” career, Charlie may be looking to return some of his assets and good fortune to Benz.
Many of you who follow our coverage of potential local engagements and college prospects are likely to be very familiar with Asensio. It routinely appears on our player lists to watch and is widely discussed as a potential insurance policy if George Bellow leaves this winter and Phnom Academy Caleb Wiley is not ready to challenge Andrew Gutman and Mickey Ambrose for minutes in the MLS.
Asensio is an experienced and intelligent left-back who has performed and served in a leadership role at every level he has played so far. He’s a fixture for four years at Clemson and has the stamina to play nearly every minute of those four years. He is not the brightest or the most transformative player in his position but he brings a lot of intangibles and intuition to the center that will help him adjust to the professional game. He has good positioning, good speed, good defensive instincts, and will occasionally shock the opponent with a cross pass.
Our other big who might end up with a local contract is the UCLA captain and 4 year playing fielder, Justin Garces.
The stars seemed to align with Garces in 2021. After years of standing on his head to prevent brutal seasons from looking much worse, Garces finally had a good squad ahead of him. He still had plenty of wild matches that forced him to make some great saves, 36 in total for a high 72% save percentage and 1.16 goals/90.
Unfortunately for Garces, a heroic save in November cut short his season, keeping him from his only chance of qualifying in Bruins’ uniform. We don’t know the extent of his injury or if that would be a concern for Atlanta United prior to the enlistment but he is a capable and experienced young goalkeeper who already has the national youth team pedigree, playing alongside Andrew Carlton and Chris Gosselin V. FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Our next player has already won a trophy for Atlanta United. In fact, he and Asensio were two teammates in the U-17 team that won the club’s first-ever cup. Brown captain and right-back Will Crane had a long way to go back on the field, but he left it all on him in his final season in college football.
After losing his sophomore season to injury in 2019, the now healthy Crane saw his season cancelled when the Ivy League decided to cancel all athletics during the opening year of the pandemic.
Crane is a talented defender, natural leader, and capable set-piece handler, often tasked with set-pieces and right-hand corners. He needs some time to develop after losing two key years of playing time, so he’d be an ideal player for Atlanta United 2’s winger.
Another player who could return to Atlanta during the 2s could be Georgia South midfielder Alhaji Tambadou.
If you feel like there’s a trend with these guys so far, this is the lead. Tambadu is another player on this list who is a vital part of his team. His work ethic and determination to further develop himself as a player are best demonstrated through his three seasons in the Summer Football League with the Georgia Revolution in the NPSL. He could play an 8 or 6 and would likely be called up as an all-purpose midfielder in the professional ranks. It’s hard to pinpoint his highs in the competition, but it seems realistic to feature him in the USL Championship at this time.
A few other seniors who will be making some major decisions about their future later this month are Georgia state multi-rounder Clayton Dawes and winger Victor Pereira Zavala, and Mercer striker Mike Elle. Dawes is the most experienced of this group and probably the most interesting for the USL Championship teams. Ille is a bit of a late fall, and he made an impact in his first season in his red jersey as a backup for Trevier Martineau. Pereyra-Zavala’s future is somewhat unclear as he disappeared from the roster due to an apparent injury near the start of the season, so he may be back with GSU for another year.
Another big who has had a sluggish season is former Georgia South team captain Alder Curtis. At the start of the 2020 season we learned that he would be moving to High Point University. In what would have been his season in the red, Curtis has been nowhere on High Point’s roster which leads us to believe he’s late to KFC and will play his final season in 2022.
That concludes this year’s Leading Client category. Let us know which of these players you would like to see play for Atlanta United or Atlanta United 2. We will continue this streak soon with the rookies.