The MLS SuperDraft was held on Tuesday, and with its four selections, Atlanta United added four young attacking players to the roster.
For Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra, the draft process was less about finding the guy who can be a quick fix and more about finding players who can develop within the Atlanta United system.
“We’ve definitely looked at it as not necessarily trying to plug some holes for the first team, but adding some players we think can develop and potentially affect the first team,” Bocanegra said.
Atlanta United added youth, especially with its first selection. The club’s first round pick was Erik Centeno, a forward from University of the Pacific. Centeno is a member of the 2022 Generation Adidas class as one of eight highly touted prospects in this year's draft and fell to Atlanta United at No. 19 overall.
At 19 years old, Centeno was one of the youngest players in the draft, but proved to be an exceptional talent in his Pacific career. He was the only freshman to start all 16 games for the Tigers in 2021. During the season, he recorded six goals and five assists and led the team in points. He made the First-Team All-West Coast Conference as a freshman and was named Freshman of the Year for the conference.
“He’s a young player, so he has some time to develop and that’ll be good for him coming in here, competing and hopefully getting better every day,” Bocanegra said.
Centeno is listed as a forward, but his versatility has been highlighted. Bocanegra sees him as a winger but didn’t rule out that he could develop into an option at wingback or outside back. However, his ability to take players on 1-v-1 and beat defenders in the attacking half makes it more likely Centeno will play higher up the field.
“We think he’s quite crafty and tricky,” Bocanegra said. “He can get to the end line and get some balls across.”
Rounding out Atlanta United’s 2022 draft class were three more attackers. With the second round pick, no. 47 overall, Atlanta United landed Tristan Trager out of Air Force. At 5-foot-11, Trager is a rangy midfielder who provides a strong attacking presence. He scored 13 goals and added seven assists during the 2021-22 season on his way to being named WAC Offensive Player of the Year.
In the third round, at 75th overall, Atlanta picked Daniel Bloyou. Like Trager, the forward out of Penn State gives Atlanta an experienced attacking option. Bloyou led Penn State in goals (8) during his junior year. Born in Ghana, Bloyou grew up playing in Pennsylvania and spent five years in the Philadelphia Union youth academy. Prior to transferring to Penn State, he played 32 total games in two seasons at Old Dominion.
With its final pick, a compensatory pick the club received in a trade, Atlanta United selected Tola Showunmi from the University of New Hampshire. A 6-foot-3 striker, Showunmi is an intriguing option for the attack and joins the club with a high college pedigree. His team-high 10 goals during the 2021-22 season led New Hampshire to a program-best 17 wins and a no. 9 ranking in the final United Soccer Coaches National poll of the season.
Whether these four players will see immediate action with the first team has yet to be determined. It’s difficult, as Bocanegra himself pointed out, to break into an MLS side and make the starting lineup right away. These players will most likely see time with Atlanta United 2, which released its 2022 schedule on Wednesday. There, the draft picks can take that time to develop and freshen up the competition.
However, all four selections will have a chance to prove otherwise. They’ll train with the first team when they return to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground for preseason next week.
“It’ll be great to have these guys in,” Bocanegra said. “We think all these guys have an interesting profile, and they’ll have a chance to come in and prove themselves in preseason.”
Atlanta United kicks off the 2022 season on Feb. 27 against Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Click here to view tickets.