It was a long, exciting week of soccer at the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana, site of the US Soccer Development Academy’s Playoffs and Summer Showcase. Three Atlanta United teams took the field over the course of seven days; in this week’s prospects recap, we tell you all about how they did, and which players left a big impression on the many scouts and fans in attendance.
U16’s Book their Place in the Quarterfinals
Atlanta United’s U16 team showed their skill and class by picking up two wins and a draw, topping Group A and securing their place in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. In the opening match against Montreal Impact, United took the lead through Zyen Jones in the 8th minute, only to be pegged back by a questionable Impact penalty kick (sound familiar to anyone?) for a 1-1 draw. Against Chicago Fire in game 2, the young Five Stripes returned to winning ways as Jones, James Brighton, Alessandro Castro and Blake White all tallied in a comfortable 4-1 victory.
The third game against Players Development Academy on Monday proved to be a testy, physical affair, but after a scoreless first half-hour, United was able to win a free-kick outside the box. Instead of curling one on goal, the team went with a training-ground set piece routine which saw Dylan Gaither fire a hard, low pass into a streaking Jones, who slotted past the PDA keeper. The U16’s were ultimately unable to add to their lead, but thanks to good defense and other results, it was enough to secure their place in the next round.
Through all three matches, there was one sure constant: a first-half goal from Zyen Jones. The 17-year old winger has already made a name for himself with the US U17 National team, both at residency and at World Cup Qualifying, where he scored twice. Jones spent most of the tournament on the left flank, often combining with left-back and new homegrown signing George Bello to create constant danger. Defensively, the center-back pairing of Kendall Edwards and Will Crain was consistently solid and got better as the tournament progressed. Blake White and Jackson Conway were also both impressive in attacking midfield; even though they didn’t play together much, both picked up assists and helped dictate possession in the attacking third.
Quarterfinal match-ups in the DA playoffs are hosted by one of the clubs taking part. The hosts are primarily decided by seeding, which bodes well for Atlanta United, the second-highest seeded team remaining. It’s expected that the pairings will be announced sometime today, so make sure to follow the Development Academy’s socials for that news.
U18’s Come Up Just Short
Atlanta United’s top-seeded U18 team ended their season after a win and two draws in the playoffs, ultimately finishing second in Group B behind the LA Galaxy. With current homegrown Andrew Carleton playing alongside future homegrowns Patrick Okonkwo and Lagos Kunga, United put out a star-studded line up against LA in the first match. Despite dominating possession, Atlanta could only manage the 1-1 draw on the back of Okonkwo’s 2nd half header. In game two, United was locked in a scoreless draw with FC Boston Bolts before Carleton scored the game’s only goal with this moment of magic from a free-kick.
This left the U18’s needing a win against a very strong Sporting Kansas City side in game three, and they very nearly got it. After a thrilling, yet scoreless first hour, Machop Chol brought down a long ball from the defense, beat one defender off the dribble and rifled a low shot past the SKC keeper. Due to other results, United ended up in a position where they needed to chase another goal to advance, and Sporting wound up getting a late, fluky equalizer for a 1-1 draw that helped neither side.
While the big names did their part for United in this event, several others were massively impressive. Charlie Asensio, another player from the U17 National Team, was consistently very good both as a left-back and a defensive midfielder, constantly foiling attacks and launching new ones. United’s defense allowed only two goals the entire tournament, largely thanks to the great work from center back duo Bryce Washington and Edwin Figueroa. Finally, Laurent Kissiedou was perhaps the team’s most impressive player, covering tons of ground in midfield and consistenly posing a threat for defenses, either by his movement, passing ability or vision in the final third. Kissiedou was not well-known to scouts coming into the playoffs, but they surely know who he is now.
For this group of players, the playoff exit puts a wrap on what should be considered a remarkable season. Players from seven different clubs across multiple states who had never played together before August came together to absolutely dominate the highest level of youth competition in the United States. Obviously two from this group will be joining Atlanta United’s first team roster in January, but many others will continue their playing careers in college or elsewhere, and some will remain with the academy through next summer. Atlanta United will be keeping tabs on them in case they decide to offer a professional contract in the future, and it will be a lot of fun to see how they progress in their careers.
Young Midfielders Shine at the Showcase
While there isn’t a playoffs format for the U14 age-group, there is a Showcase event to accompany the older age-group playoff event. This showcase allows teams to play clubs of similar ability from outside of their region of the country. Atlanta United’s U14’s played Chicago-based Sockers FC to a 2-2 draw, lost 2-1 to the Colorado Rapids, and took a 3-2 victory against Seattle Sounders.
Two of the U14’s midfield regulars really impressed onlookers at the showcase: Jackson Wrobel and Chase Oliver. Wrobel is a small central midfielder who is technically and mentally years ahead of his age. His three goals in the showcase was icing on the cake for his consistently strong performances in the center of the park. Oliver also plays in midfield, but he’s a different sort of player, using his pace and skill to break defensive lines single-handedly. He only scored once for United, but was consistently the team’s most dangerous attacking threat.
The other takeaway from the U14’s week in Indiana was the players brought up to join them from younger teams. Balmore Cruz, Micah Worton, Valentin Bargagna and Trevor Dozier were four players born in 2003 joining the squad of 2002’s. In addition, 2004 Nigel Prince started all three matches at center back alongside Worton, and 2005 striker Danial Sebhatu appeared in two matches. It’s exciting to see Atlanta United’s commitment to providing young players with environments that challenge them, and these players have proven they deserve the opportunity to take on that challenge.