Major League Soccer's next club to enter the league will be Atlanta United FC and they will begin play in 2017. However, the fledgling club isn't wasting any time putting the first set of puzzle pieces in place.
According to Soccer by Ives, Atlanta United's youth academy will begin play in 2016, a full year before the club kicks off league play.
The club will field teams in the U-12, U-13, U-14, U-16, and U-18 age groups. The U-14, U-16, and U-18 groups all compete in the U.S. Soccer Development academy.
Owner Arthur Blank is not sparing any expense with his new club. He's willing to do whatever it takes to make sure AUFC and its academy are top notch entities in the American soccer landscape.
"We're bringing in everybody earlier than we have to based on the MLS timetable because you want to get them comfortable with the market, and understanding what's going on here," Blank told SBI. "Listening to everybody and getting a good sense of the soccer fabric in Atlanta.
"We'll do whatever we have to do to make sure it's first class and world class," Blank said of Atlanta United's youth academy. "We're equally excited about the youth part of this as we are excited about playing professionally."
With Atlanta United FC coming onto the Georgia youth soccer scene, already established clubs like Georgia United and Concorde Fire are likely to be affected. Except that, instead of butting heads, it appears that AUFC has put in its best efforts to work together with the existing clubs.
"They're not coming in trying to bulldoze," Concorde Fire director of coaching Ken Kurilec told SBI. "They're coming in saying ‘How can we all work together? How can we make the whole program better? How can we market soccer better?' I think it's been nothing but positive and we fully support what they're doing. I think they've got the support of Georgia soccer."
According to the same report, Georgia United has graciously agreed to move out of the U-16 and U-18 Development Academy age groups to make room for AUFC in 2016.
The biggest advantage to starting a youth academy so early in the club's process of building is that the clock on Homegrown players can begin. A player must be a part of a club's academy setup for one year before they are eligible to be signed as a Homegrown player. Beginning the academy a year before the first team kicks off will allow for more time to evaluate and sign potential youngsters to Homegrown contracts.
The club is going all out with its plans for their academy, something other expansion teams have failed to do. It will be very interesting to see if it pays off in the future and how much of a difference this type of long term investment makes.