The Atlanta United U18 team has certainly learned their fair share of lessons early in the season, and today was no different against North Carolina Fusion. Atlanta United began the season having won all four of their matches, while the Fusion were coming off their first loss in three matches.
AUFC dominated possession in the first half, leading to plenty of shots on goal. It looked as if Cheik Fofana had given Atlanta the early lead, but an offside call negated his tap-in. Michael Ille was active throughout the first half, wowing the crowd with fancy footwork and getting Atlanta’s first shot on goal. Patrick Okonkwo, Atlanta United’s leading scorer with a tally of four goals in four matches, also had an early opportunity saved by Fusion goalie Alec Smir.
That would be the theme of the match, as Smir refused to allow a goal during the early offensive onslaught from Atlanta. He compiled a total of nine saves in the first half alone. The Fusion were happy to defend most of the half and counter when a chance presented itself, frustrating Atlanta United in the meantime.
The second half began with beautiful buildup play between Okonkwo and Fofana. Okonkwo got off a shot inside the box, but again Smir managed to save it. The frustration continued to build for Atlanta as Smir saved another five shots in the second half, including a point-blank save from an Adeola Oke opportunity. Smir ended up with 16 saves in the match.
On the other end, Atlanta United goalkeeper Russell Shealy had very little to do, needing to save only half-chances and the occasional cross into the box. That was because of the excellent defending done by Bryce Washington and Kareve Richards throughout the entire match. Neither defender allowed a Fusion player to get the better of them, breaking up any materializing counter attacks or buildup play. This was the third clean sheet of the season for Atlanta United, who has allowed just three goals in five matches overall.
Although not the result they had hoped for, lessons will certainly be learned from this match. Atlanta was not able to break down a tough Fusion defense, but this was yet another test for a young group of players to grow from. An experience for every kind of situation can only bode well for the U18 team in the future.
The next test for Atlanta United’s U18 team is tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., as they take on the Capital Area Railhawks at Pace Academy.