It’s been a remarkably busy week for the young talent at Atlanta United, and the prospects recap is here to bring you the best bits. This week, we look at the academy’s weekend results, the club’s first USL signings, and something different coming up for the academy’s youngest team.
Perfect Start to the Spring
The U19’s, U17’s and U15’s all kicked off their Spring Development Academy schedules over the weekend in the best possible fashion, as each team won both of their games against opponents Carolina Rapids and Charlotte Soccer Academy.
The U19’s took down the Rapids 5-0 behind a hat-trick from Dawson Gideon in just his second start of the season, then defeated Charlotte SA 2-0 on Sunday. The U19’s have lost a couple of defenders recently, including George Bello to the first team’s preseason training, and it seems that they’ve turned to the younger age group for replacements, pulling Kendall Edwards and Natneal McDonald up from the U17 team. Both players have improved tremendously since arriving at Atlanta United, and fans should be keeping an eye on both of them in 2018. Time will tell if this is a permanent thing, but with the USL team still filling itself out, there’s a good chance more younger players will be joining Edwards and McDonald on the U19’s soon.
The U17’s defeated the Rapids 2-0 and CSA 4-0, continuing to solidify their place atop the DA’s Southeast Division. Striker Jackson Conway was involved as usual with 3 goals over the weekend, while Victor Delgado, Daniel Mangarov and Takuma Suzuki also found the back of the net. The weekend’s matches also brought the academy debut of former Kalonji Soccer Academy midfielder Tarek Sirdah, who came off the bench in both games for the U17’s.
The U15’s won 4-0 over the Rapids and 2-1 against CSA, with midfielder Kobey Stoup continuing his recent scoring form by adding 3 goals of his own over the two matches. They too handed a debut to one of the academy’s newest recruits, defender Andrew Durkin. Durkin is the younger brother of DC United homegrown and US U20 midfielder Chris Durkin, and he’s already following in his brother’s footsteps by earning his first national team call-up last November.
A Game-Changing USL Signing
Last Wednesday, Atlanta United 2 announced their first four signings in club history at once. AJ Cochran, Jack Metcalf and Yosef Samuel were three of the players announced, each with at least a season of experience in USL. However, it was the fourth signing, 16-year old attacking midfielder Diego Lopez, that drew the most attention.
The equalizer! Diego Lopez right place, right time and and are level!#NikeFriendlies // https://t.co/sEbfFrFoYp pic.twitter.com/0u0jGBVxVt— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) December 3, 2017
As you can see above, Lopez is apart of the new U17 US National Team and is one of the highest-rated players in the high school class of 2020. More significant, however, is that Lopez is from Chino, CA and the greater Los Angeles area, which is now home to two other MLS clubs. Lopez was playing his club soccer with another local Development Academy club, FC Golden State.
Why does his hometown matter, though? The reason is that MLS has a “homegrown territory” rule which prohibits other clubs within the league from recruiting academy players from within the immediate area around an existing MLS club. Obviously, Lopez’s home falls within the immediate territory of both the LA Galaxy and LAFC, which means that if Atlanta United wanted to simply add Lopez to their academy, they would have not been able to do so. However, there are no territory rules when it comes to signing a player to a professional contract in USL, which is exactly what United did.
So, while adding yet another exciting young talent to the club’s development system, Atlanta United may have exposed a major loophole in MLS’s regulations in the process. Many fans and journalists have called these territory rules into question in the past, saying they are against the spirit of competition. If other MLS teams catch on, the Diego Lopez signing could signal a new opportunity for young players across the United States and a new era of competition for young players within the league.
Next weekend brings another full slate of academy games for Atlanta United, as the U19’s, U17’s and U15’s will all be back at the training ground. This week’s opponents come from the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, with Chargers SC and IMG Academy coming on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Meanwhile, the U12’s have a very interesting event this coming weekend, as they will contest the South Atlantic Futsal Showcase in Indian Trail, NC. Futsal training has been an increased focal point in recent years for the Development Academy, especially at younger ages. This weekend’s showcase is a chance for the club’s youngest team to play the indoor game competitively, as well as play some opponents from outside of Georgia. Make sure to keep an eye out for all the news and notes surrounding the Atlanta United academy this week.