With Monday's announcement that Atlanta United will launch their youth academy in 2016, we learned a lot about the future of the youth soccer landscape in and around the city. One of the area's most prominent youth development academies, Georgia United Soccer Alliance, will be greatly affected by the new Major League Soccer franchise's arrival on the scene.
One might expect that Georgia United would be resentful of the new kids on the block, especially since they are rich, powerful, and have great ambition for the future. Instead, they have decided to embrace Atlanta United and work with team to aid the future MLS club with their ambitions. One of the most eye-opening gestures they've decided on is abandoning their U-16 and U-18 U.S. Development Academy squads and give their spots to AUFC.
This move signifies their willingness to work hand-in-hand with Atlanta United. DSS was able to speak with Georgia United Technical Director Tony Annan via e-mail a day after the announcement was made to get their side of the story. Annan stressed that he sees his academy's relationship with AUFC as a positive development and in no way a negative. When asked to elaborate on how exactly the relationship would work he simply stated that it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
"We will have a partnership that will allow resources and experience to be shared in both directions." said Annan
"From the start, Atlanta United were very careful to ensure that they collaborated with the current DA programs and US Soccer before they entered the Youth Development space. During the consultative process the course of action was discussed as AUFC liked our model and were impressed with its results. In the end we all felt that this was the right way forward and would ensure the best pathway for talented kids in the area."
Leaving the Development Academy in the two older age groups is a big sacrifice for Georgia United and a decision that was not an easy one for the decision makers at the academy.
"It was a tough decision for Dave Iggy (Executive Director), and myself as we had put so much time and effort in to GU, but we felt it was the right decision as it is about the kids and giving them the best opportunity to be successful and we feel we are doing that, it is not dropping out, its more like moving the program on."
The biggest question that Georgia United leaving the older age groups brings up, is what happens to the current crop of players that would've continued up the ladder at the academy? Would they transition over to Atlanta United? It turns out that the players will be free to do as they choose.
"All Georgia United players will be in the shop window and given every chance to continue to play Development Academy with Atlanta United and benefit from the resources the program will offer."
With AUFC on the scene and fellow youth academy Concorde Fire still in the mix, does Georgia United leaving the older age groups affect local youth players chances at finding a club? Annan believes that having three youth academies would just dilute the player pool instead of enriching it.
"The player pool is able to provide two academies with competitive players but we feel, as does the US soccer that three might dilute the quality. So players will still have the same opportunities to play DA as they did in previous years."