May 20, 2017, that’s the date that Andrew Carleton will forever remember as he made his MLS debut against Houston at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It was the 85th minute and Miguel Almiron was coming off the field after notching his first hat-trick for Atlanta and the substitute was no other than Powder Springs native and 16-year-old Carleton.
“My heart kind of dropped, in a good way,” Carleton said. “I was like, ‘wow, this is it, I’m about to play in the game, this is what I been waiting for my whole life.’ It was a ‘I can’t wait to get in’ type of feeling.”
“I don’t think there are words that could describe that moment. The fans were unbelievable and the atmosphere was insane, they been crazy all year long and I know everyone enjoys playing in that atmosphere and we just hope that it can keep going as far as possible.”
Playing professionally as a 16-year-old is something that takes dedication, effort and most importantly, commitment.
“It took everything I had,” Carleton said. “I chose as a 10-year-old to not go to public school and stay home-schooled so I could train in the mornings, then go home and do online school and then train again at night. It took day in and day out dedication to keep working in my craft, my skills and it ends up paying off here now.”
“You have to be locked in day in and day out. You can’t be locked in just on game day or the day before. You have to be locked in on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and be able to show the coach that they can rely on you on Saturday or Sunday and whenever he needs you in the game. If you show him that you can’t do it in training, he’s not gonna expect you to do it on the weekend.”
While Carleton has commitments with Atlanta and doesn’t enjoy the ‘traditional’ life of a high schooler, he doesn’t think that he’s missing out on anything.
“Going to prom and stuff like that would be cool but I rather play in front of 45 thousand people on the weekend,” Carleton said. “I still get to hang out with my friends, I’ll be done with practice in about an hour, so we’ll go out and hang out at the pool or something like that.”
As Carleton played his first minutes in MLS and the crowd chanted “he’s one of our own”, he said that he didn’t realize that people were chanting his name due to the loudness of the stadium.
“All I heard was noise, it wasn’t a certain thing,” Carleton said. “It wasn’t until I watched the game and I could hear it on TV (fans chanting his name). Watching the game back you heard everything they were saying, it was incredible.”
The midfielder is also coming off a successful showing with the U.S Under-17 where they came away in second place and qualified for the Under-17 World Cup, which will be held in India later this year.
“Everyone is excited for him,” Goalkeeper Alec Kann said. “I don’t think I was ready to play professionally in front of 50 thousand people when I was 16 years old, but he’s a special kid, special player and has a bright future ahead of him.”
Almiron said in a postgame interview that he said ‘blessings’ to Carleton during the substitution but he wasn’t sure if he had understood what he said and it turns out that he was right.
“I didn’t know what he had said, I didn’t even knew if he had said anything at all,” Carleton said. “Like I said, my brain just zoned out and I couldn’t hear anything except straight noise. I saw it later on Twitter and I asked him about it yesterday and he said that he told me ‘blessings’ and ‘good luck.’”
United and Carleton enjoyed the 4-1 victory on Saturday but are now focused on their rematch against New York City FC on Sunday.
“It was an awesome experience to get in at my first MLS game,” Carleton said. “To feel the atmosphere and the speed of the game was awesome and I’m just working hard this week to get back in this upcoming weekend and in future games. I’m working to keep the momentum going and hoping for another win.”