Welcome back to the Atlanta United Prospects Season Preview. We’ve already looked at the college kids and the youngsters in the academy; now it’s part 3, and that means it’s time to preview the academy’s two competitive sides, the U17’s and the U19’s. Unlike the younger teams, the results matter now, and coaches and scouts from the next level are watching every game closely. Many of the players in these squads train with Tata Martino’s side weekly, and the reward of a first-team contract is tantalizingly close. There’s also been persistent rumors of a USL reserve team coming soon, and players from these teams would be asked to fill a good portion of that roster if it happens. As before, we’re here to preview both teams and also single out three young players in each side that fans should be watching closely over the next ten months.
Atlanta United U17
With players always moving up the levels in youth soccer, defending a national title doesn’t have a ton of meaning. Still, that’s the task the U17’s will set out for this season. In a preseason tournament in Mexico City, this team took on some of MLS’s and LigaMX’s top academies and fared pretty well, going 2-2-3 and earning victories against Mexican clubs Atlas and Toluca. There’s also a U16 team this year that will supplement this roster on occasion, and many of those players proved their worth in Mexico last week. Here’s some of the youngsters that will be worth watching on the U17’s this year:
Kendall Edwards - Defender
Edwards is one of just two returning starters from July’s championship run and is perhaps the best center back prospect in the entire academy. Last year was his first playing on the back line, but Edwards rarely looked uncomfortable regardless of the opponent. He’s a good organizer from the back, is quick in pursuit and can time tackles very well. Having already proven his quality on the pitch, this season will test Edwards’ leadership qualities as the likely captain of this young squad.
Jackson Conway - Forward
For fans who followed the U16’s title run, Jackson Conway will be a familiar name for his contributions off the bench, scoring in the semifinal and setting up both Andrew Carleton goals in the final. Conway played a variety of positions throughout last season, but with James Brighton now on the U19’s, the center forward role is his for the taking. He’s already proving that he belongs in that role after scoring four of the team’s nine goals in Mexico City, and a breakout goal-scoring season for Conway seems to be on it’s way.
New Attacking Talent
Okay, I know it said we’d only profile 3 players on each team, but the U17’s have too many exciting new recruits up top to single out just one. First, there’s Raleigh-native Edson Candela-Perez, a dynamic winger who was one of the most impressive performers down in Mexico last week.
Then there’s Fabian Rivas, whose 27 goals as a sophomore for GHSA 7A state champion Meadowcreek was enough for the AJC to name him their 2017 high school player of the year. Deedson Vixamar also comes over from Kalonji Soccer Academy, where he was the nation’s top scorer in the U16 USYS National League. These are three accomplished young attackers, and it will be interesting to see which of them really separates themselves from the pack this season.
Atlanta United U19
The academy’s oldest team enters the 2017-18 season with a lot of high expectations. With 14 players returning from both the U18’s and the U16’s from a year ago, there’s more than enough experience in the Atlanta United system, and the new recruits are an impressive group as well. Incredibly, nine of the 23 names in this squad have been called into a national team camp in the last year, including 15-year old homegrown George Bello, who will play with the U19’s this fall. In such a deep team, it’s nearly impossible to choose which three players to go in depth about, but here’s what we’ve come up with.
Justin Garces - Goalkeeper
With all respect to Bobby Boswell, Justin Garces may have been Atlanta United’s biggest summer signing. Garces is one of the best American goalkeeping prospects in a long time. The Miami-native and Kendall SC product is the starter for the U17 men’s national team and was awarded the golden gloves at the U17 CONCACAF Championship back in May. He’s an excellent shot stopper, but his biggest strength is his distribution and calm with the ball at his feet, which is exactly what Tata Martino wants in his keepers. Most people thought Garces would be off to Europe after his 18th birthday, which leads to the belief that he wouldn’t have joined Atlanta United at all without a pro contract on the way.
Charlie Asensio - Defender/Midfielder
You don’t have to watch Charlie Asensio play for very long to realize just how good he really is. As a left back, center back or defensive midfielder, Asensio generally establishes himself quickly and makes a big impact on the game. He’s also firmly entrenched in the U17 national team picture and could find himself with a plane ticket to India for the World Cup in October. Asensio is committed to Clemson and the Tigers will be hoping their young talent will make it to campus next fall, but Atlanta United may have other plans.
Zyen Jones - Forward
Zyen Jones is yet another player in and around the U17 national team picture, and whether he ultimately makes the World Cup roster or not, he’s established himself as one of the country’s most dangerous attackers. Athletically, the winger already has everything he needs to play professionally. He’s a big, strong player with a nose for goal, and he has the speed to leave defenders behind in the open field, as seen below.
Jones, like his club and country teammate Asensio, has seen very little time in the academy setup due to being at U17 national team residency. The 2017-18 academy season will be a huge opportunity for the youngster to prove he belongs at the next level.
That’s all for our season preview of Atlanta United’s academy and college prospects. The U12’s, 13’s and 14’s kick off the new Development Academy calendar this Saturday at the training ground against Lanier SA. Follow along with all the action all season with us, both here and on twitter at @atlutdprospects.