Huntsville City FC players to watch in 2024

Huntsville City FC kick off their 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season on Saturday (2 pm CT vs Chattanooga FC). We’re breaking down the players to watch this year.

After a maiden campaign that saw them narrowly miss the MLS Next Pro Playoffs, Huntsville City FC took their roster and absolutely cleaned house. Of the players who signed with Huntsville last season, only four remain: centerback Fernando Ciceron, midfielders Isaiah Johnston and Jonathan Bolanos, and attacking midfielder Ollie Wright. Everyone else is gone, and many fresh new faces have arrived.

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Huntsville is in a fairly unique situation in MLS Next Pro. Aside from the independent clubs and the newly created The Town FC (San Jose’s affiliate in Oakland), the rest of the MLS reserve sides theoretically face less pressure to get results in favor of developing talent. Sure, one typically follows the other, but, for example, Toronto FC II don’t have a dedicated fanbase to answer to if they’re losing games, as long as they can keep churning out talented players.

The “prove it” guys

We’re gonna start with the four players who return from last year. In the grand scheme of things we still know very little about the way Huntsville’s front office will operate long term. That front office was even shuffled around this offseason with former Director of Soccer Operations Liam Doyle taking the same role in Nashville, and Huntsville filling his role by appointing Matt Cairns.

However, one thing that is abundantly clear is that Huntsville will not be afraid to move on from anyone, and players on contract with the MLS Next Pro side have extremely short leashes. We’re talking about a club who decided not to retain either of their Player of the Season in Kemy Amiche, or their leading goalscorer in Azaad Liadi.

Isaiah Johnston, Ollie Wright, Fernando Cicéron and Jonathan Bolaños will have to continue to consistently impress if they want to have long term futures not only in Huntsville, but potentially with the team in Nashville as well.

I’m also going to throw Joey Skinner in here, even though he’s on contract with the first team. Right now, Nashville’s options at left back are of course Dan Lovitz and Taylor Washington, but neither are locked down for the long term. This may be a season where Joey Skinner can make a bit of a name for himself and threaten to move up to the first team if he plays well.

The strikers

Again, we’re going to talk about four players all at once because the situation with them is very similar. I’m of course talking about the striking quartet of Forster Ajago, Woobens Pacius, Alexis Cerritos, Adem Sipić, and Maximus Ekk.

Forster Ajago is a player who (hopefully) shouldn’t spend the entire 2024 season in Huntsville. As of now, Ajago, who scored a brace on his debut with the first team against Moca FC in CONCACAF Champions Cup, is ineligible to appear for the Boys in Gold in any other competition due to his international status. Should Nashville come into an open international slot this season, either by way of trade or a current player receiving their green card, Ajago will almost certainly fill it.

However, right now he’s in Huntsville. He is a big, dynamic striker who can make piercing runs through the heart of a team’s defense while also being a threat in the air. The longer he stays in Huntsville the harder it’s going to be for anyone else to be the leading goalscorer in the Rocket City.

Woobens Pacius is another player on a first team contract who will play out the vast majority of, if not all of 2024 with Huntsville. Pacius, who came up through CF Montrèal’s academy, spent the last three seasons with Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League, where in 73 league appearances he scored 26 goals and provided six assists across 4,081 minutes, helping Forge to one CPL Shield and two North Star Cups in his tenure with the club. I won’t go too far into a scouting report on Pacius as Target Scouting has already done a full profile of Pacius as a player

I am, however, going to talk about Adem Sipić and Maximus Ekk together. Both players are very young at 18 years old each, and thus have plenty of room to grow.

Sipić is coming into his second season in Huntsville and will look to build on a 2023 rookie season that saw him score twice in 603 minutes. Ekk, on the other hand, spent 2023 with USL League One’s Central Valley Fuego FC, and arrives with Ronald Alexis Cerritos in Huntsville to start 2024. Ekk scored twice in 11 USL League One appearances himself. Both young strikers will benefit from the ability to learn from the three older (relatively speaking) forwards, and should continue to improve before your eyes in 2024.

I saved Ronald Alexis Cerritos for last because he’s probably the most interesting player in the room, as he comes with the least fanfare. Cerritos is a 24-year-old who has one cap with El Salvador to his name, which came 6 days after his 17th birthday in 2017. He played 3,457 minutes across 50 league appearances with Central Valley Fuego the past two seasons.

In those appearances, Cerritos scored 10 goals and provided seven assists (including one to Maximus Ekk against Lexington SC). He’s played both as a no. 9, but also in attacking midfield. This kind of versatility should serve him well in whatever system Huntsville head coach Jack Collison decides to play. Preseason lineups show that Collison does like Cerritos, for what it’s worth.

The Academy products

There’s quite a few players I could talk about here, but you’ve been reading for quite a while so I’ll keep it to a few.

First, naturally we have to talk about Nashville SC’s most recent homegrown signing, Isaiah Jones. As I mentioned after his signing, the area of Jones’ game I’d look for the most improvement in 2024 is his passing. He already wins duels at a level above his years, which means he can begin to round out his game into becoming a more complete midfielder for Huntsville, and hopefully Nashville in the future.

Jake Grekowicz is a goalkeeper who’s long held down the number one shirt with his age group in the academy, but after a 2023 where he made the bench for Huntsville 6 times in league play, and a preseason training with the first team, he’ll look to make his MLS Next Pro debut in 2024 before heading off to play for Michigan State.

Cannon Scretchen is another player who will look to make his MLS Next Pro debut in 2024 ahead of the start of his college career with Xavier. Scretchen is a left footed winger who operates best off the left, though squad makeup has forced him to play both the 9 and the 10 at times with the academy. For his age, he’s got a good sense of how to win 1v1s, which is one of the hardest things to teach a winger. College should be great for his development, and he has impressed me just about every time I’ve seen him play.

Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez can play either the 10 or out wide, but I’d imagine he plays the 10 in the vast majority of his appearances this season for Huntsville. He played all of six minutes in MLS Next Pro last season, but I’d expect that to increase. Truthfully if you asked me to guess right now who the next homegrown signing from the academy is, I’d bet on Velazquez-Lopez being that guy.

Lastly, let’s talk Scott Cheevers. Cheevers is a big, physical centerback, and his profile probably makes Gary Smith feel very optimistic about his future. Seriously though, Cheevers does all the things Nashville typically asks of its central defenders. He’s physical, good in the air, and although he’s not got the widest passing range, he’s more than capable of breaking lines if he needs to on occasion. He also has international experience with the U.S. U15 team.

Huntsville conceded 45 goals in 28 games last year, and basically all the other defenders are gone. Cheevers should see good minutes this season.

Predicted Huntsville City FC Roster

Goalkeepers: Simon Jillson, Jake Grekowicz**, Ben Martino*
Defenders: Scott Cheevers**, Fernando Ciceron, Kessy Coulibaly, Charly Dealmonte**, Julian Gaines*, Tomás Ritondale, Joey Skinner*
Midfielders: Patrick Amarh, Jonathan Bolaños, Isaiah Johnston, Isaiah Jones*, Sergi Oriol, Cannon Scretchen**, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez**, and Ollie Wright 
Forwards: Forster Ajago*, Alexis Cerritos, Maximus Ekk, Woobens Pacius*, and Adem Sipić*  

*Nashville SC player
**Nashville SC academy player

Author: Ronan Briscoeis a contributor for Broadway Sports, and a founding contributor at SoundwaveSoccer.com, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC and Nashville's youth academy.

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