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Atlanta United Academy Report: Welcome to the Future

U18 and U16 teams remain unbeaten

Dave Williamson Photography

If you haven’t read them yet, check out my reports on Saturday’s 5-1 win over Chargers SC and Sunday’s 3-2 win over IMG Academy for the U18’s.

A few other quotes from the weekend that didn’t make the recaps:

  • Academy Director and U18 Head Coach Richard Money on striker Patrick Okonkwo:

“I think everybody knows about Patrick, he’s already been down to Charleston and trained with the USL guys. If he keeps his feet on the ground and his head in the right place, he has the chance of a future.

He’s the leader of the line, he’s got all the attributes to be a modern day #9. There’s still a lot of improvement to come in his play. He looked dangerous all afternoon. He just needs to keep his feet on the ground and we’ll see where he goes.”

  • Money on his U18 squad’s defense:

“I think every team is built on sound defense. Our curriculum works in different phases. At the minute, we are working very much on the defensive phase with some little drips of how we defend individually and how we defend as a group. What we do have is good pace at the back, good recovery pace at the back. On top of that, we have Edwin (Figueroa) who is a real good organizer and very calm with the ball. It’s a pretty good mix. Like most teams in the modern game, attack can be the best form of defense and if we can keep the ball for longer periods then we’ll do less defending.”

  • Striker Patrick Okonkwo on Saturday’s game:

“We have to work hard and everything comes into place. We have a lot of confidence in each other. Today’s game showed more of that. We’re still learning, we can still work on our abilities.”

  • Center back Edwin Figueroa on the U18’s defense coming together:

“I think in the beginning, we missed a little bit of communication. We’ve fixed it up and connected real quick. We have a good connection now, good chemistry.”

  • Figueroa on a player he tries to emulate:

“I like Carlos Bocanegra, he’s great. He’s talked to me a couple of times, given me tips.”

  • Figueroa on what they’re working to improve:

“Sometimes when teams pressure us high up, he (Money) tells us to kick it out and not start off with the short pass because that’s where we’ve made most of our mistakes.”

The last quote came to mind in the opening of Sunday’s match where the defense made a mistake in possession early that cost them a goal. These things happen with teams as they are coming together, miscommunication can happen and players are still learning each other’s tendencies.

The most important thing about Sunday’s game was the team being forced to deal with pressure. With two blowout wins so far this season, this has not always been the case. The blowouts are fun, but it’s the close games where these young players will develop the mentality needed to make their mark at the next level.

The goalscorers are usually the story, but there were other strong performers in the U18 squad in the two games this weekend. Machop Chol didn’t score, but was involved in creating many of the goals in the two games. His 1v1 dribbling was vital in the attack. Victor Pereyra-Zavala could have been the most solid player on the field in the two games. Positionally sound and consistently linking the defense and attack, Pereyra-Zavala had a good set of games in the midfield.

The U16’s also posted two wins over the weekend, 3-0 over Chargers on Saturday and 7-1 over IMG on Sunday. They are 4-0-0 so far this season. With only three goals allowed, Money’s comments about defense being the foundation is clear. Center back Will Crain and defensive midfielder Alessandro Castro have started all four games so far to anchor that effort.

Obviously, with fifteen goals scored in four game, the attack is very strong with this group. Forward James Brighton has seven of those goals, with four of those coming in Sunday’s win. Check out his goal on Sunday against IMG:

Midfielder Saul Tinoco added three goals over the weekend. Recent youth national team call-up Jackson Conway made his Atlanta United debut over the weekend and got on the scoresheet Sunday.

The U14 and U13 teams were off last weekend. The U12’s continued their local series of games with wins over Lanier Soccer Assocation and United Futbol Academy.

Next weekend, U12’s are off while everyone else hosts North Carolina Fusion on Saturday and Capital Area Railhawks on Sunday. The U13/U14 games will be at Kennesaw State’s Marietta campus, while the U16/U18 games will be at Pace Academy’s athletic complex. Schedules can be found at Atlanta United’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy page.