There have been many rumors and speculation about which big name Atlanta United would sign before their inaugural season. Wayne Rooney was the first big star to be "rumored" to be coming to Atlanta almost a year ago. Fans have also been dreaming of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Andres Guardado donning the red and black stripes come 2017.
All of those players would've sold many shirts and tickets, but the impact they would have on the team would be short-term. Ideally, Atlanta United could find a young player with star potential to help the club's long-term success.
With the signing of 15-year-old Andrew Carleton as the first Homegrown Player in franchise history, you get just that. I know that's a really bold statement to make about a kid who can't even legally drive by himself for another few weeks, but that's how talented he is.
In a fair world where the best soccer players could play wherever they want regardless of age or nationality, Carleton has the talent to go play in any of the top academies around the world with an eye on making the jump to the first team like Christian Pulisic has done with Borussia Dortmund. This is not a declaration that Carleton is the next Pulisic. But the similarities both in talent and style are there. Instead, thanks to the strict guidelines FIFA has for youth players going abroad, United were able to sign him.
By the time Atlanta United begin play in 2017, Carleton will be 16 years old and approaching 17. While a lot of Homegrown Players in MLS are signed and left to rot on the bench or in the academy, there's a very good chance that he sees meaningful minutes right away. The club are building their roster from scratch and will be able to accommodate their young talent with their acquisitions instead of signing them with no real plan like most clubs do.
Carleton has the talent and skill to contribute right away. Considering the U-17 World Cup is the same year that United enters MLS, it's probably unrealistic to expect him to play a huge role as he'll be on international duty a ton, but you can bet he'll get his chances to impress.
It could be argued that this is one of, if not the biggest Homegrown signings in MLS history. Carleton is the No. 1 ranked player in the 2018 Boys IMG Academy Top 150. Most top prospects in American soccer have their eye on Europe, but United were able to find a way to keep him in-state.
Having signed a known European star would've been great -- and it's still possible they might -- but this intent on signing a local young talent who is a national prospect is one that fans should be extremely excited about. Kudos to Atlanta United for putting in the work to get their youth movement underway the right way and let's hope this is just the beginning.
While this is no doubt a great signing for the future, it's important to remember that Carleton is still just a kid with a lot of developing to do. Before we label him a superstar or a savior, let's let him get a few seasons under his belt.