In a momentous step for a MLS expansion team, Atlanta United will launch a full academy prior to its first team’s kickoff. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy season starts Saturday. The Atlanta United U12 team will play Southern Soccer Academy at Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus at 10:00 a.m.
Atlanta United identified 120 players for their five U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams. The players came to Atlanta United from 29 different clubs around Georgia and beyond. Teams will play at the U12, U13, U14, U16, and U18 age groups.
The U12’s are coming off a set of friendlies in Charlotte two weeks ago where they faced teams from the Philadelphia Union and Carolina Railhawks academies.
The U12 age group is new for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy this year. U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos said:
“We are very excited to expand and introduce the Academy structure and philosophy to the U-12 age group when players are in their peak learning years. That age represents a critical stage in a player’s growth, and this move represents another important step in our expanded efforts to improve elite player development."
This age group will have more local clubs involved to help minimize travel and maximize development. Atlanta United will face Southern Soccer Academy, North Atlanta Soccer Association, Concorde Fire, Lanier Soccer Association, United Futbol Academy, and AFC Lightning over a 24 game season.
Each club will have two teams in this group and games will be played in a 9v9 format. The idea is for clubs to move players from team to team so they get to play in different combinations. Each gameday will see two simultaneous matches take place. They will play 30 minute halves. This age group is primarily for kids born in 2004, Atlanta United has five 2005’s playing with this group.
Atlanta United’s two coaches in this age group are Matt Lawrey and Rodrigo Rios.
Lawrey comes to Atlanta from the Richmond Strikers club in Virginia where he was highly respected. He coached both boys and girls in this age group last season. Lawrey has experience as a college assistant and worked with the U.S. Club Soccer id2 program to identify talented players. He is also a recipient of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double Goal Coach Award, given to coaches who excel at developing positive character traits in their players.
Rios is a former captain and Director of Soccer for the Atlanta Silverbacks and was named the Georgia State Soccer Association Girls Select Coach of the Year for his work at United Futbol Academy-Norcross in 2014. He received his U.S. Soccer ‘A’ coaching license in 2014.
The U13 age group is also new this year for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, as they split the U14’s into two groups rather than one combined age group like is seen at U16 and U18.
Atlanta United’s U13 will play over 20 games in a regular season that begins on September 10 in Cornelius, NC against the Carolina Rapids (affiliated with Colorado). Local clubs Concorde Fire and Georgia United will also compete in their region.
Michael Lynch is coaching the U13 squad for Atlanta United. He was most recently the Director of Coaching for Tucker Youth Soccer Association. He also coached the women’s team at Clayton State University, leading them to their most successful season in program history.
The U14 age group will play games either before or after the U13’s on most weekends. Their first game locally will be on September 17 when they host Triangle Futbol Club Alliance at Kennesaw State’s Marietta campus at 12:00 p.m.
The team is coached by Kris Bertsch. He joins Atlanta United from the University of Louisville, where he was the assistant coach of a strong squad that achieved a top 10 ranking last season. Bertsch has extensive college experience, serving on staffs at Xavier, Syracuse, and Connecticut. At Connecticut, he worked with Atlanta United’s Director of Soccer Operations Paul McDonough. Three players joined MLS while he was Xavier.
This is the age where you start to see some pro prospects emerge. Two members of this team, left back Charlie Asensio and winger Zyen Jones, played with the U.S. U17 national team in a tournament in Mexico last week. Another player from this group, Jackson Conway, has been called into a U.S. youth national team training camp for players born in 2001.
This group features a number of players with extensive regional ODP experience and call-ups to youth national team camps. Their season kicks off on September 10 in Cornelius, NC against the Carolina Rapids. Their home opener is Saturday, September 24 at Pace Academy against the Clearwater Chargers at 3:00 p.m.
Academy Manger Tony Annan will coach this group. He has over 20 years of experience in youth soccer in metro Atlanta and started the Georgia United program that is nationally renowned in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
This is another group of players with a great deal of high level experience. Homegrown Player signing Andrew Carleton will feature for the U18’s this fall. Midfielder Chris Goslin joined Carleton on the most recent U.S. U17 national team squad in Mexico.
Forward Patrick Okonkwo was named to the USSF DA Best XI last year in this age group, and played with the Charleston Battery in friendlies this summer against Glasgow Rangers and the Nigerian Olympic Team. He will be joined up top by Cheik Fofana, who was a leading scorer for Georgia United at the U16 age group last season. Mike Ille is another forward in the mix who recently committed to college powerhouse Clemson.
In addition to the home opener on September 24, a key date to remember is October 23. This will mark the first time Atlanta United teams face Orlando City with the U16’s and U18’s playing at Orlando’s Seminole Soccer Complex.
This squad will be coached by Academy Director Richard Money. He comes to Atlanta with experience in youth player development at Newcastle United, Coventry City, and Aston Villa. He has also been involved with senior level teams in England, Sweden, and Australia in his distinguished career.