As is the case with all college sports, the start of a new season means there are plenty of new faces and names for fans to get familiar with.
The 2022 Northwestern men’s soccer team is no exception to this rule — 10 of 28 members from last year’s roster moved on, leaving many holes to fill regarding depth in all thirds of the field. Second-year head coach Russell Payne clearly scoured the country and transfer portal during the offseason to replenish and boost the talent level of his roster, and it appears he has been successful. Top Drawer Soccer ranks Northwestern’s 2022 recruiting class as fifth-best in the country, including both first-years and transfers who will have the opportunity to contribute immensely this season.
With August just a couple days away bringing in preseason play, here is a brief introduction to all 11 of Payne’s newcomers (star ratings courtesy of TopDrawerSoccer.com) :
Paul Walters, 3-star goalkeeper
Lakota West HS (West Chester, Ohio)
The Ohio native was recruited from FC Cincinnati’s academy program. Walters has only one match on public record for the MLS-side’s second team, in which it defeated Orlando City B 5-3. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound keeper put on a relatively shot-stopping performance, letting in just three goals on 4.34 expected goals conceded, according to Wyscout. He also completed five of his eight attempted long balls, one of which — a great ball out to the right-wing — ended up turning into an assist. While it’s unlikely he’ll have that level of performance consistently until a year or two into his collegiate career, Walters’ potential as a modern goalkeeper is hard to ignore, and the ‘Cats could reap the rewards of that in the coming years.
Christopher Thaggard, 3-star forward
Cabarrus County Schools (Harrisburg, N.C.)
Still just 17 years old, Thaggard became Charlotte FC’s first ever academy player to make his senior debut for the club back in February. Despite a seemingly clear pathway to the first-team at an MLS club, he elected to come to Northwestern and is an excellent acquisition made by Payne. Entering 2022 wearing No. 9, the traditional number for a striker, as a first-year speaks volumes about what the coaches think of him, and what he’s shown at lower levels of the sport — goalscoring, dribbling, speed — justifies those expectations. Expect a battle between Thaggard and rising junior Justin Weiss for the starting spot up top.
Henri Richter, 4-star midfielder
Milton Academy (Newton, Mass.)
The 4-star rating from one of the most reputable soccer recruiting websites out there speaks for itself. Interestingly, Richter is the only recruit the ‘Cats signed who didn’t come from an MLS academy, but he was a high school all-American as a senior. He earned that honor as a defender, but Northwestern’s website lists him as a midfielder, so it’ll be interesting to see how Payne uses him. There’s definitely potential for him to find space as a holding/defensive mid just as Paul Son did toward the end of his first-year campaign last season.
Nigel Prince, 4-star center-back
Forsyth Academy (Atlanta, Ga.)
Prince, an Atlanta United youth product, usually plays as a right-sided center-back, but also could play at right-back if absolutely necessary. He made a couple of appearances for Atlanta United II, and profiles as a very traditional defender. Reading the game and winning 1-on-1 battles look to be his biggest strengths, though his on-ball ability and passing will need to show up consistently as well for him to find a spot among the Wildcats’ back line.
Jayvin Van Deventer, 4-star midfielder
Blue Springs South HS (Lee’s Summit, Mo.)
Of all recruits in this class, Van Deventer has the most non-youth team experience, playing multiple matches for Sporting Kansas City II in the USL Championship — the league below MLS in the American soccer hierarchy. The Missouri-native also received a call-up to the United States U-20 team in January, so he’s well though of by a lot of different scouts and talent evaluators. In Evanston, he’ll likely be used as a defensive midfielder, although he can also play a little further forward. Additionally, he’s one of the few players on this roster with a TransferMarkt profile, and has a transfer value of $55,000, or about two quarters of tuition and housing at Northwestern.
Jason Gajadhar, 3-star midfielder
Bill Crothers Secondary (Toronto, Ont.)
In addition to an abundance of home-grown talent, Payne was also able to bring in an international element to the team with Gajadhar, a Canadian who is also eligible to play for Trinidad and Tobago. The Toronto FC academy product seems likely to play in a role akin to an attacking midfielder, a la Vicente Castro, who is a senior this year. Northwestern’s attacking third was one of its weaker points until the end of the season, so adding more talent and vision underneath the strikers up top like Gajadhar and Van Deventer is a solid move from the second-year HC.
Christian Garner, graduate goalkeeper
Boston College transfer, from Orleans, Mass.
Garner played 860 minutes for Boston College last season and ended up starting in the Eagles’ lone match in the ACC Tournament. His stats aren’t exceptional, as he conceded 1.36 goals per 90 minutes on 1.09 expected goals conceded per 90 minutes, according to Wyscout. However, he is better with his feet, and he had a 81.1 pass completion percentage while completing over 50 percent of his long balls. Given his experience and the gaping hole between the sticks left by Miha Miskovic, Garner has a chance to play a major role on the team this season.
Brandon Clagette, sophomore right-back
Pitt transfer, from Atlanta, Ga.
In his lone year at Pitt in 2021, the former Atlanta United academy player was used primarily as a substitute and lined up anywhere down the right flank. With Payne moving toward a back three during the latter half of last season, Clagette likely will fit in as a right wing back, a role which should take advantage of his ability to make an impact both in and out of possession.
Ethan Dudley, graduate defender
Florida Gulf Coast transfer, from St. Johns, Fla.
Dudley adds lots of versatility to this roster, as he played almost everywhere in the center of the pitch for the Eagles last season. Expect him to settle down this year on the left side of NU’s back line where his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame will make any opposing attacker’s life difficult. Dudley is also tidy and effective on the ball, as his experience playing as a midfielder would suggest, and against teams that press high, he should be able to help alleviate that pressure with his technical ability and decision-making.
Andrew Stevens, graduate midfielder
Columbia transfer, from Marshfield, Mass.
Stevens went to high school with Garner at the Brooks school in Massachusetts, a connection which helped bring both of them to Evanston. Stevens has more of a similar profile to Dudley, though — physically imposing and capable of playing as a midfielder and center-back. However, he’s listed as a midfielder on Northwestern’s roster and will likely be deployed there. He relishes the defensive side of the game, averaging a smidge over six interceptions and a whopping 27 duels won per 90 minutes, according to Wyscout.
Brett Chrisman, junior midfielder
Colgate transfer, from Glencoe, Ill.
While he’s currently not listed on the official roster, the men’s soccer Twitter account has confirmed multiple times that Chrisman transferred to Evanston from Colgate, like fellow junior and last year’s leading goal-scorer Weiss who transferred last season. Chrisman played in United States League 2 side Chicago FC United’s academy and attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette, the transfer bringing him much closer to home. It’s not exactly clear where he stands in terms of playing time this upcoming season, as he joins a deep midfield group, but by bringing him on, it’s clear Payne intends to find a use for him in some capacity.