It’s nearly October in an odd-numbered year, which in footballing-time means it’s time once again for the U-17 World Cup, the biannual competition that pits teams of the best 16 and 17 year olds from all across the World against one another. The U-17 World Cup is soccer’s most heavily-scouted event by a wide margin, with every major club across the globe desperate to find the next great superstar. It’s understandably an exciting time for fans as well, who will have their eyes cast on the players who they believe will be difference-makers on their senior national teams for years to come.
This year’s edition is significant for several reasons. India is the host, and it’s their first real opportunity to showcase themselves to the footballing world. A new champion will also be crowned for the first time since 2011 (back-to-back winners Nigeria failed to qualify). Finally, for our purposes, this will be the first U-17 World Cup which will see Atlanta United players participate, and there’s quite a few of them.
The U-17 US National Team has three Atlanta United players on it: first-teamers Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, and academy player Justin Garces. You can read in depth about each of them and how they fit into the roster here. United’s three representatives are the most by one club on the US roster, and this has been the case throughout the two-year cycle. In fact, it was initially Georgia United who was consistently putting four players in U-17 camps, with current Five Stripes academy players Zyen Jones and Charlie Asensio often joining Carleton and Goslin.
Having so many players on the national team has had it’s positive effects on Atlanta United as well. Despite having no previous MLS ties, Garces has long been this age group’s best goalkeeper. The Miami-native chose to join Atlanta United’s academy from his former club Kendall SC, partially thanks to some convincing from his national team teammates. Those connections were probably also helpful in the academy adding former Philadelphia Union defender Rayshaun McGann, who has also been a prominent player for the US this cycle.
But, as every TV infomercial ever has told you, that’s not all. Travel south of the border to Honduras and you’ll find two more Five Stripes preparing for the tournament with their squad: U19 midfielder Alessandro Castro and U17 defender Alex Bahr. Bahr has actually been with the Honduras U17’s since January and started every match for them in May’s World Cup Qualifying tournament. Because of his national team commitments, he’s only made seven league appearances for Atlanta United’s academy over the last year and a half.
Castro, on the other hand, has been a major player in the academy to date. As a regular starter for last season’s U16’s, Castro helped carry the team to the Development Academy national championship, making 31 appearances during the season. It was partially his stellar play with Atlanta United that put him on the radar of Los Catrachos, and he was recently handed the number 10 shirt in a friendly against Costa Rica. It’s clear that Honduras believes Castro will be a real difference maker for them in India as they try to repeat their 2013 performance, when they reached the quarterfinals.
So, all in all, five Atlanta United players will take the field in India this month, three more than any other club in MLS. It’s an incredible achievement for a club and an academy that kicked a ball for the first time just over a year ago. The World Cup kicks off on Friday, October 6th and we’ll be closely following how each young Five Stripe gets on.