‘Thor’ is back | One Knoxville SC building out squad with impressive signings

Knoxville’s professional soccer team is building out its squad with several signings.
Sebastian “Thor” Andreassen with One Knoxville SC
Sebastian “Thor” Andreassen with One Knoxville SC(One Knoxville SC)
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 11:15 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 2:43 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - One Knoxville Sporting Club officially is set to announce a slew of new signings for its upcoming inaugural professional season. The club has taken to Twitter to let fans know who will be on the field when the season starts next spring.

Sebastian Andreassen

Fan-favorite Sebastian “Thor” Andreassen is set to make his USL1 debut, returning to One Knoxville.

The Norwegian scored nine times in One Knox’s inaugural season, and four of those goals were scored in a single match against the Dalton Red Wolves.

Previous Coverage: Man-of-the-match Andreassen puts One Knoxville SC at top of division

Andreassen spent the fall at Division I Central Arkansas, where he helped guide the team to the Conference Championship final. He’s also spent time with Young Harris College and the Des Moines Menace (where he helped win the 2021 national championship under McKeever).

“Seba’s ability to cover the ground and commit his physical frame to bring others around him success are very unique attributes,” McKeever said. “There will not be a harder opponent to play against in this league in 2023.”

Andreassen himself only had three words as comment: “I’m back, Knoxville.”

Ilija Ilic

Ilija Ilic, a USL veteran, signed a two-year deal with the club ahead of its first USL League One season.

Ilic is coming to Knoxville from the USL Championship and will be reuniting with Mark McKeever, current One Knoxville head coach and former head coach at Young Harris College, Ilic’s alma mater.

Ilic scored 64 goals in 72 appearances while playing under McKeever at the college. After he left school, he jumped into the professional soccer game, winning back-to-back league championships in 2017 and 2018 with Louisville City.

“Ilija is a tremendous player who will also help us in a coaching capacity due to his wisdom and experience in the USL for many years,” McKeever said in the club’s release. “I am so happy to work with him again after many years, his creativity and awareness are a joy to watch. Ilija is a born winner, and he will lead this team forward leaps and bounds.”

Ilic himself is excited to come to Knoxville, saying, “I am most excited that I will be part of an organization that has a bright future! The way the club is led by the owners and coach McKeever is something that makes me enthusiastic, and I am really looking forward to being a part of it.”

Ilic won’t just be on the pitch, however. He will also take on the role of assistant to McKeever and the staff.

Angelo Kelly-Rosales

This 29-year-old midfielder is joining the club after spending four years at the USL Championship level with the Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

Kelly-Rosales is another player who will be reuniting with McKeever. The midfielder played under McKeever for the Mississippi Brilla in what is now USL League Two, One Knox’s starting league, before jumping to the USL’s top level.

“Angelo Kelly is a player who has never quite received as much as he has provided during his career,” McKeever said. “Angelo is the type of player that every team needs, he is the ‘bread and butter’ and he will be the foundation that is created on Hard Work. I am so excited to Have Angelo and his family with One Knox and I know this is an opportunity that will allow him to grow and evolve into a better footballer and leader.”

Kelly-Rosales said he was excited to work under McKeever again, saying the two had “unfinished business.”

Jake Keegan

A New York native and One Knoxville’s first American-born professional signing, Jake Keegan will be headed to Knoxville after winning the 2020 USL 1 championship with the Greenville Triumph.

The proven player said meeting new people is what motivated his move to 865.

“I’m most excited to witness first hand just how much the club will mean to so many people!” Keegan said. “This game brings people together from all walks of life and the joy it brings to fans, players and staff is something that will never get old!”

McKeever himself had high praise for Keegan, saying he will work as a role model for the other players.

“Jake is a proven professional with a character that epitomizes what we want from our team culture,” he said. “Jake will lead by example in the locker room, on the field and will exemplify a lifestyle to our younger players that will be a model for every aspiring player to achieve.”

Peter Swinkels

Knoxville soccer fans will recognize this player; Peter Swinkels is One Knoxville’s first returning-signing (if you don’t count returning team Captain James Thomas).

The goalkeeper hails from San Francisco and helped lead the team to a South Central Conference championship and a run to the final eight.

What sold Swinkels on Knoxville? His experience with the culture that McKeever is helping to build around the team.

“People often talk about being in the right place at the right time,” Swinkels said. “What isn’t mentioned is being surrounded by the right people at the right time. I’m proud to be making the jump from USL2 to USL1 with One Knox, surrounded by the right group of individuals who value the human being, as well as the athlete.”

The gaffer himself spoke highly of the returning player.

“Peter has all the tools to have a great career in football. Peter has great ability with his feet which is important to the way we play,” McKeever said. “He has been relentless in his pursuit to be part of this special project at One Knox and we know he is going to have a top career in the pros with his relentless attitude.”

Frank Ross

Frank Ross, a former Scotland youth international player, most recently played in the Eredivisie for the Go Ahead Eagles. Now, the Scotsman is headed to Knoxville to, in his own words, win trophies.

“I’m excited to play in a new style of football and push for success with the team and of course, I want to win trophies,” Ross said. “From what I have heard, the gaffer sounds amazing to play for and I can’t wait to get going!”

McKeever said he was excited to see Ross’ proven ability in action.

“Frank is a tremendous talent who has experience at the highest leagues in Scotland and the Netherlands,” he said. “Frank has the ability to play inside or outside and I feel as though he can really ignite his career in the USL League One.”

The club will begin playing again in April. Season ticket deposits are also now available here.

Yesin van der Pluijm

One Knox secured some more Championship experience in Yesin van der Pluijm, another former player under McKeever.

van der Pluijm won five conference championships under McKeever while in college and even won the Conference Player of the Year honors. The young star spent 2022 with the Colorado Switchbacks in the USL Championship.

“Yesin is a player with a massive ceiling in the sport,” McKeever said. “He is very hungry to prove himself after a bumpy first year as a pro. I have every confidence that he will grow into a player at the highest level in the USL. Yesin has a great passing range and his ability to see the game is exceptional. Yesin is motivated to be the best version of himself and I know he will represent the club fully on and off the field. I am excited to see Yesin jump the next hurdle in his life and career.”

One Knoxville’s coach is certainly having an effect on players all over multiple leagues, as van der Pluijm was yet another to say he accepted the move to Knoxville to work under the gaffer.

“First and foremost I wanted to play for Coach McKeever and his staff again,” he said. “I know the winning culture he will build and I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of that. I had also heard great things about the soccer community and fans in Knoxville. I’ve been to the city a few times now and my gut feeling only got reaffirmed. On top of that, I really liked how the club owner, Drew McKenna, and everyone involved made me feel as one of their own from the start. Exciting times are ahead for everyone in Knoxville!”

Jalen Crisler

Jalen Crisler is coming to Knoxville after being named to the USL One All League Team, an honor he earned after helping lead the Richmond Kickers to the top of the regular season table in 2022.

The 28-year-old started in 29 games and played for 2,595 minutes last year.

“I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity Knoxville has given me. After speaking with Coach McKeever, his staff and the front office, I loved the vision and the plan they have for the club. Seeing Knoxville firsthand, I can’t wait to represent this city in their inaugural season in League One. I have been fortunate to play for some great fan bases in my career and the community is very important to me.” Crisler said. “The Scruffs are supporters I noticed immediately, I see what the club means to them and I cannot wait to meet all of them and perform to the standard they deserve.”

McKeever said Crisler’s signing is a big deal for a club ready to grow.

“Jalen has all the attributes of a defender at the highest level of USL League One. He is a proven winner and we are ecstatic that he chose to join One Knox to help us set the highest of standards from day 1. Jalen is a model pro, with the experience to help us establish the club and is extremely motivated to improve. This is a massive signing for One Knox.”

Matthew Vowinkel

Matthre Vowinkel is coming to Knoxville after being drafted by Cincinnati FC, a Major League Soccer club. He also recently led the Long Island Roughriders to the USL 2 championship game, scoring 11 goals in less than 20 league matches.

McKeever said Vowinkel has an eye for scoring goals.

“Matt is a player that would be considered an old-fashioned striker in terms of having the ability to be in the right place at the right time to put the ball in the back of the net,” the coach said. “He is a humble, hard-working player that can be an asset to One Knox in the 2023 season. I am excited to see this lad get the opportunity to score goals at the next level.”

Vowinkel himself is looking forward to spending time in the Scruffy City.

“I cannot wait to join One Knox because I want to bring the fans and people of Knoxville an amazing first season,” he said. “I am super excited to move to the beautiful city of Knoxville and still be able to do what I love to do.”

Kyle McDowell

This Virginia Tech alum and former Scotland and Northern Ireland youth international is a star at left back.

McKeever has had his eye on McDowell for years.

“Kyle is a lad that I’ve been watching for a number of years and chasing for the USL League 2,” McKeever said. “What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in his receiving skills, ball retention, creativity and immense delivery. I think Kyle is going to do big things in his career and we are excited to watch his excellence going up and down the field for the 2023 season.”

McDowell, who delivered 18 assists in 47 starts at Virginia Tech, said, like many others, he’s excited for what McKeever is helping to build in Knoxville.

“When I began conversations with the gaffer regarding the opportunity, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of,” the player said. “To play under a coach with such an attractive/exciting style of play in front of such a good fan base is a no brainer, I am buzzing to get started!”

Jan-Erik Leinhos

Jan-Erik Leinhos, a former Louisville City wingback, is bringing even more Championship experience to One Knox.

The German joined up with Louisville after playing for Marshall University, where he was a part of the NCAA Division I College Cup Championship team in 2020.

“Starting something new is always exciting and I think my personal goals of winning and proving myself on the professional level very much align with the objectives of the club,” Leinhos said. “I look forward to meeting everyone and to start the season strong in March.”

McKeever spoke on Leinhos, pointing out his ability to attack from a full back position.

“I had the pleasure of seeing him evolve at Louisville City this past season and I believe his pedigree is of the highest caliber for USL League One,” McKeever said. “Jan was unfortunate at LouCity not to push on and having him hungry and humble with a desire to smash the 2023 season is outstanding for One Knox SC as a club. Jan will be climbing back up the ladder very soon and I’m excited to see him excel in USL 1 this season.”

Ahinga Selemani

Ahinga Selemani, a 26-year-old attacker with experience playing in Malta for Gudja United FC, is also making his way to the Smokies.

Selemani also has experience playing internationally, being featured numerous times on the USA Men’s National Team at the U17, U18 and U20 levels. McKeever described Selemani as exciting.

“Ahinga is a player that brings versatility and athleticism. He also has a wealth of experience in a variety of leagues and he’s very keen to make a stamp in the USL1. We feel Ahinga has all the attributes as a footballer to really shine in the USL1 and I know he is extremely hungry to prove this,” the coach said.

So what inspired Selemani to make the move to 865?

“The opportunity to be a part of something new and bringing professional soccer to a city is an exciting movement, I want to be a part of that growth,” he said. “I am expecting a lot of hard work and sacrifice will be shown from everyone, the staff seems eager and hungry, and I am sure the other players are too.”

Sean O’Hearn

One Knoxville landed some MLS experience in signing Sean O’Hearn, who played in 18 MLS Next Pro games last season.

O’Hearn spent two years with the New England Revolution II in both USL1 and MSL Next Pro. Now, he says he’s excited to see Knoxville’s energy.

“I played in League One two years ago and the atmosphere at these clubs was surreal. I expect an atmosphere in Knoxville that surpasses my experiences two years ago and that entices me,” O’Hearn said. “I have heard nothing but good things about Coach McKeever and the quality of players he has brought in so far has been just what I expected. I really think we can challenge for trophies in this upcoming season.”

The 24-year-old center back also helped lead Georgetown University to the 2019 Division I National Championship.

McKeever himself has looked to bring players with impressive records to Knoxville.

“Sean is a player of a Championship winning caliber as he is very motivated to win. As a defensive player, Sean brings a calmness on the ball due to his comfort level with receiving skills,” McKeever said. “He is comfortable traveling with the ball and is the type of player we need if we want to see lots of the ball. I’m excited to work with Sean and his winning mentality.”

Jimmie Villalobos

Jimmie Villalobos, former Chattanooga Red Wolves star, is making a short trip north to come to Knoxville.

Villalobos played 32 games in the 2022 USL1 season, helping lead the Red Wolves to the national final. Now, Villalobos said he’s looking forward to continuing his career in Knoxville.

“The vision that One Knox has for this upcoming season has made me want to come to this beautiful city,” he said. “I am excited to meet the fans and have seen how much support they bring to the team which creates an amazing playing atmosphere. I am looking forward to experiencing it!”

McKeever himself spent some time watching Villalobos in Chattanooga.

“Jimmie was one of my favorite players to watch last season in League One,” McKeever said. “He does not mind doing the dirty work off the ball for the team and when he is on the ball, he has an amazing talent to simplify the game and bring others into the play. I am really excited to see Jimmie continue to evolve as a player and represent One Knox to the fullest.”

Sam Fletcher

One Knoxville has signed a familiar face in Sam Fletcher, who helped lead the club to its USL League Two Southeast Division title.

Fletcher is a midfielder out of Phoenix, Arizona and recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara where he played in 19 games, starting in 17. McKeever had high praises for this returning player.

“Sam is one of the most unique footballers I’ve come across in all of my USL League Two years,” the coach said. “He has an impeccable desire to get the ball and press from deep positions. His aggressive nature will be a key component of our make up. Sam’s not just limited to being a ball winner, he has great awareness of the game and I completely believe this kid has a massive ceiling that the sky’s the limit for him.”

Fletcher himself is excited to return to the Smokies.

“The opportunity to rejoin One Knox from the USL 2 team to the professional team in League One is really a dream opportunity for me,” he said. “This summer gave me the opportunity to showcase myself and also for the club to showcase the brilliant staff, fan base and direction of the club. I am looking forward to growing with this team.”

Jordan Skelton

One Knoxville has also announced the transfer of defender Jordan Skelton from North Carolina FC.

Skelton is yet another player with experience working under, and against, Mark McKeever. The player even wore the armband at NCFC and played a club record 2,610 minutes last season with 164 clearances and 31 blocks.

McKeever spoke on the transfer, saying “Skelts is a unique individual with a drive that is second to none. Having gotten his feet wet in the pros I know he is desperate to chase silverware. I have competed with and against Skelts for many many years and I’m always happier when he is on my side. I feel he has the ability to catapult his career forward in an environment where he is trusted and can evolve as a true leader that has the talent to match his leadership qualities.”

Skelton is also looking forward to the move to Knoxville.

“I was attracted to Knoxville right away,” he said. “A beautiful city with passionate fans, and a club who are hungry to win. The opportunity to work with Coach Coach Mark McKeever and his staff is something special. I can’t wait to get to work, and make One Knox fans proud to wear our badge.”

Dani Fernandez

Returning to One Knoxville is Dani Fernandez. The Brazilian was in Knoxville for the club’s first chapter playing at the USL2 level and will now venture into the game professionally for the first time.

Fernandez recently graduated from Lenoir-Rhine college where he was a solid defender. McKeever said Fernandez’s commitment to the club is as strong as ever.

“Dani is another CB that has brilliant receiving skills and technical ability to manipulate the ball from feelers areas,” McKeever said. “Having worked with this fearlessness driven young man for the past couple of summers there is no one more committed to this team than Dani the bull Fernandez! He will work his socks off to provide for this team and his teammates, a true players player with bags of talent on and off the ball!”

Fernandez, like many other returning players, said it was easy to come back after One Knoxville’s impressive inaugural season.

“This summer I think we were able to create something special with the USL2 group, the coaching staff and everyone within the club, with the city of Knoxville,” Fernandez said. “Coming back to play for the team again is a dream come true and I can’t wait to play in front of the fans again and grow with this team.”

Sean Lewis

There’s a new number one in Knoxville in the form of new One Knoxville signee Sean Lewis.

He’s joining up after spending time in the USL Championship with FC Tulsa and Indy Eleven. The 30-year-old will be able to bring experience to One Knox after playing over 80 games in the second tier of US soccer and racking up 7,109 minutes in the Championship.

McKeever had high praises for the new signing.

“Sean has the ability to take the USL1 by storm,” he said. “I don’t know many goalkeepers that I can say are better than Sean throughout the league and I am incredibly excited to have his leadership experience and burning desire to win on our team.”

Lewis himself is, like many other players, excited to see Knoxville after hearing about the club.

“My ambition for the 2023 season is to help develop a winning culture within the team, to lay the foundations of not just winning in 2023, but for many years to come,” Lewis said. “I wanted to join One Knox because of all the great things that I have heard about the club, Coach McKeever and his staff, as well as the city itself. I think it is a club with a lot of potential and I believe I can contribute to its success.”

Gabriel Claudio

Gabriel Claudio, a 23-year-old Arizona native, is coming to Knoxville from League One competitor’s Union Omaha.

The central defender played for 994 minutes in 22 appearances in last years League One season. He also played in the US Open Cup, starting against and helping beat both Chicago Fire and Minnesota United of the MLS.

“Gabriel is a defender who will embrace the physical part of the game off the ball. He loves conflict situations and is keen to take the ball into advanced areas – great for the way we like to play,” McKeever said. “I have high expectations since he is committed to achieving his full potential.”

Claudio himself said he’s excited to help build One Knoxville up.

“I’m excited to help build the stepping stones of the long journey this club has ahead in the professional game,” he said. “I really like what Coach McKeever was proposing to me since I want to bring championships to Knoxville, also. I’m ready to bring some big tackles to Knoxville!”

Callum Johnson

Callum Johnson is joining Knoxville from the West Coast, where he played for the LA Galaxy II in the USL Championship.

The 25-year-old played for the Clemson Tigers men’s team where he was featured in 43 games across 2 NCAA seasons, winning the NCAA National Championship in 2021. Following, he was selected 42nd in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft by LA Galaxy, placing him on the Championship side.

“He was a massive part of Clemson winning the national championship and has gotten his feet wet as a professional since,” McKeever said. “Callum can play in deeper and more advanced roles with the creativity to play that impactful final pass. He will create goal-scoring opportunities with his quality vision.”

Johnson said he and McKeever see eye-to-eye, a reason why he decided to come to Knoxville.

“Having come out of the New York Red Bulls Academy and winning the National Championship with Clemson, I’m fortunate to know the sacrifice and grit needed to succeed,” Johnson said. “I want to go out there every day committed, driven and focused on winning.”

Derek Waldeck

Derek Waldeck is coming to Knoxville as a standout in USL1 with Greenville Triumph.

The 24-year-old Stanford graduate was also drafted by Dallas in the 2020 draft.

“Derek was a player that I am very excited about! He is very versatile and can play inside or outside with a great desire to drive forward and provide deliveries into dangerous areas,” McKeever said. “Derek was one of the first players on my list while recruiting and although it took us a while to get his signature, we were glad to finally have his talents on our side.”

One Knoxville’s reputation preceded it where Waldeck is concerned.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things about the club, the fans and the city of Knoxville,” Waldeck said. “Not too many players can say they’ve been a part of a club’s inaugural year in the professional game so I am excited to be a part of Knoxville history.”