It’s been a very busy week in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, where two of US Soccer’s biggest youth events of the year have just concluded. In this week’s recap, we tell you how Atlanta United’s two squads and other young players fared down in the Sunshine state.
Winter Showcase Wrap-Up
The US Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase is a 5-day event for U17 and U19 teams across the Development Academy that comes around each year in early December. It’s not really a tournament, since no one really wins it; rather, it’s a chance for teams from different regions of the country to be pitted against one another, creating what US Soccer hopes to be competitive, exciting matches. For that reason, coaches and academy directors tend to take this event quite seriously, since it offers a great development environment for the players involved.
With homegrown players Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin in the side for the first time this season, Atlanta United’s U19’s managed to go 1-1-1 in their three matches at the Showcase. The U19’s opened with a 1-0 loss against Seattle Sounders before scrapping out a 0-0 draw with New York City FC. Finally, the squad broke their scoring drought against FC Boston Bolts when James Brighton, Goslin and Dawson Gideon found the back of the net in a 3-1 win. Predictably, Goslin had himself an excellent showcase, bossing the midfield and showing exactly why he’s already moved on from this level.
The U17’s had an excellent weekend in Florida, earning seven points from the three matches. After an scoreless opening match stalemate against Real Salt Lake, United smashed Toronto FC 6-1 behind a Jackson Conway hat-trick and goals from Natneal McDonald, George Campbell and Fabian Rivas. Conway wasn’t done, as he bagged a first-half brace in the final match of the weekend, a 2-1 win against Michigan-based club Vardar. Between DA and Generation adidas Cup matches this season, Conway has already broken the 20-goal mark in just 15 games.
Aside from the prolific striker, center-back Kendall Edwards and midfielder Takuma Suzuki both drew rave reviews from onlookers at the showcase, and both players are quickly becoming regarded among the best in the country at their positions. Meanwhile, 2002 midfielder Josh Francombe marked his full-time transition into the U17’s from the U16’s in a big way, starting all three matches over the weekend.
Bello’s Back-to-Back Call-ups
One of the players that was missing from the U19’s regular lineup at the Winter Showcase was homegrown fullback George Bello. Bello was still in Lakewood Ranch, however instead of playing for the Five Stripes, he was playing for the United States U17’s in the Nike Friendlies, an annual international tournament that coincides with the showcase.
For the U17’s, this was the first event after the recent World Cup in India, and the players that contested that World Cup have moved on and been replaced by a new crop. Atlanta United’s Bello started two of the team’s three matches, captaining the squad in a 1-0 loss to England and going a full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw against Brazil. As usual, Bello was a serious problem for opposing defenders down the left flank using his pace and dribbling ability. What was as exciting to watch, however, was his ability as a 1v1 defender. Taking on some very talented opposing forwards, Bello often shut down attacks and was excellent at transitioning defense into attack, even bailing out his teammates from time to time with well-timed tackles.
However, that wasn’t even Bello’s only national team call-up in the last two weeks. Before the Nike Friendlies, Bello was invited to the U18 National Team camp, the only player born in 2002 to receive an invitation. By now, Atlanta United fans will have heard Bello’s name and will have seen how highly thought-of he is by both club and country. 2018 will be a big year for the soon-to-be 16 year-old, who should get plenty more opportunities with US youth national teams in addition to beginning his integration into Atlanta United’s first team.
Annan Shines Light on USL Plans
Atlanta United’s plans to enter a reserve team into USL starting in 2018 have long since been unveiled, with the team starting play next spring at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville. While fans are still waiting on a team name, badge, colors and kits, academy director Tony Annan was able to divulge some on how the club plans to use the new team to develop young players.
In a recent extended interview on the Soccer Down Here podcast with 92.9 the Game color commentator Jason Longshore, Annan was asked, among many other things, how the new USL club would be specifically integrated with the academy. (The whole interview is definitely worth your time, so check it out here). Annan was eager to talk about his involvement in the planning process for the USL team, saying he’s been involved in every meeting and in close communication with Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, and Paul McDonough on how this team will involve the academy program.
I’m going to work alongside the USL first team coach, and we’re going to coordinate the program between USL and the academy together, so it’s a real good joint venture. There’s a huge emphasis on getting 5-6 academy players regularly playing, regularly training. Guys who are ready to do that, mature enough to do that. And so for me, the feeling at the club is this team is going to benefit and will help close the gap between Atlanta United academy soccer and Atlanta United’s first team. And that is a very, very important step.
The fact that Annan is so closely involved with the USL project is encouraging and serves as further evidence of Atlanta United’s commitment to developing a top-to-bottom club culture and style. This team should provide a great window at some of the club’s best upcoming talent and it will be very exciting to see the team’s roster come together in the next couple of months.