Atlanta United’s U16 and U18 teams finished their Development Academy regular season this past weekend, and both officially secured their place atop the Southeast division in the process. In this week’s prospects recap, we examine their most recent results, and we take a deeper look at Lagos Kunga’s U20 World Cup call-up.
Academy Earns some Hardware
In a highly-anticipated match between the DA’s two highest-scoring teams, United’s U18’s earned a great 3-1 win against the Railhawks. After conceding the opening goal to youth national team winger Manny Perez, the young Five Stripes took the lead before half-time with goals from Mike Ille and Bryce Washington. Laurent Kissiedou added his 5th of the season in the 62nd minute to secure the victory. The Railhawks returned the favor by winning the U16 game 2-1 in another match-up between two of the nation’s top 10 teams. Blake White scored the lone goal for Atlanta.
In Sunday’s game against the Fusion, the 18’s got four goals from Patrick Okonkwo, two from Ille, another from Kissiedou and one from Machop Chol in an 8-0 demolition. The win gives them a final record of 23 wins, 5 draws and just 2 losses, which was enough to officially clinch first place in the DA’s Southeast Division standings, just edging out Orlando City for the top spot.
The U16’s also clinched the Southeast division title after beating the Fusion 5-0 on Sunday. James Brighton and Jackson Conway each scored a brace, with the fifth coming from Dawson Gideon. They finish the year with 19 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws. Both teams are still ranked in the top 3 in the country in their respective ages, and both should be considered among the favorites to compete for the title in June’s Development Academy playoffs.
Kunga making waves with the U20’s
While the FIFA U20 World Cup will take place in South Korea starting this Saturday, May 20th, the United States U20 national team took off to Japan this past week for some training ahead of the competition. Included in the team’s pre-World Cup itinerary was a tune-up friendly against Japan. The US took a 2-1 win, with Atlanta United Academy’s own Lagos Kunga notching a brace in the process.
US U-20s defeat Japan 2-1 today in a pre World Cup friendly. Atlanta United academy winger Lagos Kunga with both US goals— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 14, 2017
For many who follow the US youth national team scene, Kunga’s call-up to the squad was considered a surprise. After all, the Angolan-born amateur only received his first U20 call in April, and of the ten first-timers in the April camp, he was the only one to make the World Cup team. However, when looking at the makeup of this squad, it’s not hard to see how Kunga potentially fits into Tab Ramos’ plans.
In Ramos’ preferred 4-3-3 formation, Real Salt Lake homegrowns Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo are the likely starters on the wings, and the other selected attackers (Josh Sargent, Jeremy Ebobisse and Emmanuel Sabbi) are all primarily center forwards. That leaves Kunga as the team’s best option for depth out wide. With Atlanta United’s U18’s, Kunga is typically deployed either as an inverted winger or as a roving second striker underneath Patrick Okonkwo. Kunga possesses great pace and dribbling ability as well as a confidence playing in tight spaces; the U20’s will be relying on him to be able to provide a spark off the bench and to use his ability to distort defenses, opening up space for whoever is up top. Based off the roster construction and the early returns from Japan, expect to see Atlanta United’s young star get a chance to make an impact in Korea.
Another Atlanta Derby on the Horizon
While the season may be over for Atlanta United’s oldest academy sides, the younger teams still have games to play. This weekend, the U13’s and U14’s will be at Metro North Park in Marietta on Saturday to take on Georgia United before returning home on Sunday to play Triangle FC Alliance. The U12’s, meanwhile, will be in Fayetteville to play AFC Lightning.
Georgia United is the alliance of several local youth clubs who combined their resources and top talent into one Development Academy setup. It is the club that has provided Atlanta United with academy director Tony Annan, as well as some of their very best young players, including homegrowns Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin. Even though Georgia United agreed to surrender their place in the DA’s older competitive divisions to make way for the new MLS academy, their younger teams are still going strong and are loaded with talent. This season they have provided Atlanta United with some excellent competition and have actually won both U14 games this year between the two academies.
This season will be Georgia United’s last in it’s current iteration; most of the clubs that contribute to the current alliance will have their own Development Academies next year. Despite only existing for a few short years, what they were able to accomplish is nothing short of remarkable. This weekend’s meeting against Atlanta United kind of represents a changing of the guard in Georgia youth soccer, and it should be a great match-up.