As the US Academy system slowly (i.e. painfully) evolves and more young prospects sign professional contracts both at home and abroad, the role of College Soccer in developing national team talent has steadily waned. However each year a small group of college players enter the professional landscape and find success, with a couple working their way up to the men’s national team. In the 2021, 19 former college players had at least 1 cap with the national team, with more being called into rosters or taking part in camps. 2022 will see several more former student athletes attempt to make that jump from college to the pros. Some took part in last week’s MLS draft, others signed Homegrown contracts with the MLS teams they played with back in their academy days, and the rare couple may even sign with European teams straight out of school. Whether any become solid producers for the national team is one question, but at the very least expect to see a few get a call up in the coming years. With that in mind, here are a couple of newly professional former college players to keep an eye on in 2022.
The Road to Europe:
Dante Polvara: 21, Midfielder, Georgetown-Aberdeen
Polvara signed a contract with Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership, turning down interest from other Scottish, MLS, Italian and German clubs after a recruitment effort spearheaded by Christian Ramirez and former Atlanta United interim coach Stephen Glass. A MAC Herman winner, TDS Player of the Year, All-American, and two time Big East Midfielder of the Year, he has had no shortage of accolades in his college career. An NYCFC academy product, Polvara was teammates with national team alumni Gio Reyna, James Sands, and Joe Scally on the 2018 DA U19 national champions. At 6’4, Polvara has a powerful strike, making him a dangerous threat to score on long set pieces, however the midfieler’s true strength lies in his passing ability which allowed him to carve up defenses throughout the year. However with no professional or national team appearances to his name, Polvara has no points towards a UK work permit and will likely have to win an appeal in order to play with his new club or else likely face a loan.
Others to keep an eye on:
While not yet signed to a professional contract Kendal Burks, (CB, 22, Washington) who was taken 11th overall by Chicago during the MLS Draft, is currently on trial with Nottingham Forest in the English Championship. Burks qualifies for a UK permit through his mother.
Dylan Teves: 22, Midfielder, Washington-Seattle Sounders
While the Sounders did not have a first round pick in the MLS draft, they were nonetheless able to walk away with one of the best players in college soccer. Teves, a finalist for the MAC Herman Award, and a two time first team All American, was the star of a Washington team that finished as the runner ups in the College Cup and had 5 players selected in the MLS draft. The Hawaiian made headlines becoming the first ever player with multiple hat-tricks in the College Cup, doing so in back-back games. With 25 goals and 23 assists throughout his college career, he was one of the best attacking midfielders in college. However as noted recently by Matthew Doyle, few attacking midfielders in college stay at the position in the pros, so Teves is likely looking at a position change. He’ll have a tough time breaking into a Seattle midfield that’s among the best in the league. The Sounders however have a history of giving opportunities to college players (i.e. the Roldan brothers), so even if he doesn’t see much action this year, Teves is still worth keeping an eye on in years to come.
Sean Zawadzki: 21, Midfielder, Georgetown-Columbus Crew
The Robin to Polvara’s Batman, Zawadzki was in his own right one of the strongest college midfielders defensively. Known for his leadership qualities, he was the Captain both at Georgetown and during his time with the Crew’s Academy teams, and was named the MVP for the Hoyas 2019 College Cup Championship run. His ability to control possession and distribute gave Georetown the best midfield in college soccer.
Others to watch:
Yet another Georgetown midfielder Christopher Hegardt signed a homegrown with Charlotte FC after they traded for his rights from Seattle. The best American college player in 2020, health issues led to a down season for Indiana Forward Victor Bezerra (21) who signed a HG with the Chicago Fire. Nigerian dual nat Tega Ikoba (18) signed with the Portlander emerged partway through the season as one of the best Freshman with 6 goals in 10 games at North Carolina.
Ben Bender: 20, Midfielder, Maryland-Charlottle FC, Generation Adidas Signing
When it comes to draft picks, we always got to start with the first one. As the NPSL Young Player of the Year, and Big Ten Midfielder of the Year, Bender has emerged as one of the most intriguing young prospects in the country. A box to box midfielder and an intense presser, Bender should be lined up to get significant minutes for expansion side Charlotte. Whether or not he can take advantage of that opportunity will likely be one the biggest questions of their inaugural season.
Kipp Keller: 21, Center-Back, St Louis-Austin FC, Generation Adidas Signing
In a draft loaded with center-back talent, the one name that stood above all others was Keller’s. Left-footed, he jumped up mock draft boards after the MLS Combine, quite literally as he won the vertical jump competition, and has impressed scouts with his physical strength and speed. The core of a backline that had clean sheets in almost half their games, Keller was one of three St. Louis players who signed a Generation Adidas contract, as the school saw a draft leading 6 players selected, four of which in the first round.
Matthew Nocita: 21, Center-Back, Navy-New York Red Bulls
Nocita was perhaps the most surprising selection of the draft. Not for a lack of talent, the three time Patriot League Defensive Player turns heads wherever he goes. A part of that is his impressive size at 6’8, though he has speed that makes him faster than most players his height. The Red Bulls seem to value him highly, spending 200k in GAM in order to trade up to the 7th pick to draft him. For a team that values aerial ability and with a reputation for developing center-back, Nocita seems like the perfect pick. However his status as cadet in the Naval Academy contributed to most analysts expecting him to fall in the draft. Even with new laws allowing athletes at military academies to defer service, military academy players are often considered to be risky draft picks in professional sports due to the possibility of waivers being rescinded.
Others to watch:
GA signing, forward Isaiah Parler (St. Louis) was selected 3rd overall by FC Dallas after they sent 50k in GAM and paid off Dom Dwyer contract for Toronto FC. Other American GA signings include 2nd pick Roman Celentio (GK, Indiana, FC Cincinnati), 12 pick Patrick Schulte (GK, Columbus Crew), and 19th pick Erik Centeno (Forward, Pacific, Atlanta United). A trio of center-backs wrapped up the Americans in the top ten with Lucas Bartlett 6th (St. John’s, FC Dallas), Ryan Sailor 9th (Washington, Inter Miami), and Ahmed Longmire (UCLA, Nashville SC).
At the end of day perhaps a couple of these names will one day wear the star and stripes. Could there be a Darryl Dike or a Miles Robinson or an American Tajon Buchanon on this list? Maybe, maybe not, though who knows sometimes it’s the unheralded prospects that make a breakthrough. After all Matt Turner went undrafted out of Fairfield so I guess we never really know, talent and value can from unexpected places. Hopefully a gem or two will rise above the rest.