The young stars of Atlanta United’s academy system have been especially active over the past weekend for both club and country. In the prospects recap, we tell you about all the action from both Pennsylvania and India, and we preview the academy’s upcoming matches against another professional club.
Return of the Generation adidas Cup
Qualifying for the 2018 version of the Generation adidas Cup began last Friday, with Atlanta United joining six other MLS clubs in Chester, PA for preliminary round matches. This is the tournament that consists entirely of academies from MLS and other top clubs from around the world, and since it provides a consistent high-level of play throughout, most MLS teams prioritize this competition heavily when it comes to player development. This has always been primarily a tournament for U17 teams, but this year will see the introduction of U15 squads as well.
The U17’s, who topped the East region qualifying in 2016-17, started off qualifying with a loss to the hosts Philadelphia Union. Despite testing the Union keeper several times and hitting the goal frame twice, United wound up on the wrong end of a somewhat unlucky 4-0 scoreline. Saturday against DC United, the U17’s responded emphatically, beating the Screaming Eagles 5-2 behind a hat trick from Deedson Vixamar and a brace from Jackson Conway. For Vixamar, his hat trick came in just his second official match with the academy, which is quite a goalscoring return for the former Kalonji SA youngster. On Monday, the U17’s got another Conway brace to defeat New York City 2-1 and secure 6 points from their first three qualifying matches.
The U15’s took on the same three opponents on the same days as their older counterparts, with each highly-contested match finishing level after 80 minutes. In the GA Cup, ties go to penalty kicks, where a second point is at stake for the winner of the shootout. United was able to secure that extra point on Friday against the Union after goalkeeper Vicente Reyes, who was also excellent in regular time, made multiple saves in the nine-round shootout. DC United and NYCFC both defeated the Five Stripes from 12 yards on Saturday and Monday, meaning the U15’s leave qualifying for now with a solid 4 points to their name.
The academy will complete their Generation adidas Cup qualifying campaign in February, with matches against Orlando City, New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution still to come. The top two teams in the East region will advance to the Championship Division for the final tournament in April, while the remaining sides will play in the Premier Division.
U17 World Cup Finally Underway
Also beginning last Friday was the much-anticipated 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup. Atlanta United’s involvement in this tournament is well-documented, with five players taking the field for their respective nations.
The Five Stripes’ first two homegrown players Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, along with new academy recruit Justin Garces, all kicked off the tournament with the United States’ side in the starting XI against the host nation India. As probably the most versatile member of the USA’s vaunted attacking quartet, Carleton lined up centrally behind striker Josh Sargent and flanked by Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola and PSG’s Tim Weah. The central attacking role did not quite suit Carleton’s strengths against a compact Indian side, but once substitute George Acosta came in and the Powder Springs native was shifted back out wide, he duly delivered with his first goal of the tournament, the exclamation point on a 3-0 US victory.
Chris Goslin, meanwhile, has been one of the Americans’ most consistent performers behind their perfect 2-0 start. Goslin started the India game from defensive midfield, a somewhat unfamiliar role, but it didn’t keep him from a man-of-the-match worthy performance, completing 91% of his passes, anchoring the team’s possession attack, and effectively shielding the back-line from Indian counter attacks. Against Ghana in game 2, usual defensive midfield anchor Chris Durkin slid back into that role, moving Goslin up the pitch. Back in his usual role as a box-to-box midfield engine, the 17-year old from Locust Grove ultimately provided the game-winning assist to Akinola in the 75th minute as the US downed Ghana 1-0.
Atlanta United’s new keeper Justin Garces has played his part for the US as well, keeping two clean sheets in two matches in New Dehli. After a match against India where he saw little involvement, Garces was forced into a couple of big saves either side of halftime by the talented Ghanaian attack. The American keeper delivered, helping the US weather a period of sustained attacks from Ghana before they found their footing and, ultimately, a winning goal.
Elsewhere, U19 midfielder Alessandro Castro started for Honduras in their tournament opener against Japan, while U17 defender Alex Bahr was unused off the bench. Unfortunately, Honduras were soundly beaten by Japan 6-1 in their opener and have a lot of work to do to advance to the round of 16. Los Catrachos will be back in action tomorrow against New Caledonia before finishing the group stage against France. The US will play again on Thursday against Colombia, needing only a draw to win Group A.
Another Pro Academy Visits Soon
Atlanta United’s academy will make their return to their regular season Development Academy schedule at the CHOA Training Ground this weekend with matches against North Carolina Fusion and North Carolina FC Youth. The Five Stripes will entertain the Fusion on Saturday and NCFC on Sunday.
North Carolina FC are one of an increasing number of non-MLS professional clubs with a presence in the Development Academy, but the Cary-based NASL club are a special case. They are the largest youth club in the country with a professional development pathway with over 20,000 players and coaches in the system. Between the men’s pro team, the NWSL regular-season champions North Carolina Courage on the female side, and the robust youth program, NCFC has made a big impression on the Raleigh-Durham metro area in a short amount of time. They also have a long history of producing great teams and players from their system and are usually among the best teams in the Development Academy at most age groups each year.
This year, both NCFC and Fusion’s teams are off to strong starts, so both should pose some unique challenges for Atlanta United’s youngsters. It all starts at noon on Saturday in Marietta, so come out and support if you can.