The eyes of MLS academy soccer descended upon Marietta and Atlanta United’s training facility over the long President’s Day weekend, as Generation adidas Cup qualifying concluded for the 2017-18 season. In this week’s recap, we discuss the U17’s two qualifying matches, the U19’s match-up with ATL UTD 2, and eye the academy’s first road trip of the Spring.
For the second-consecutive season, Atlanta United’s U17’s finished Generation adidas Cup qualifying atop the East region, this time in emphatic fashion on their home turf. With all seven MLS academies from up and down the eastern seaboard at the training ground in Marietta, Atlanta’s youngsters put in two dominant performances against the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls, securing the top spot in the region in the process.
Friday’s match against the Revolution finished 7-0 to Atlanta United, with Deedson Vixamar stealing the show with four goals and two assists. The dymanic winger tallied twice in the first five minutes before setting up Jackson Conway and George Bello on seperate occasions. Liam Butts got the seventh of the match after Vixamar notched two more on either side of the halftime whistle.
The U17’s went on to defeat the Red Bulls 4-1 on Monday in a similarly one-sided affair. It took the Five Stripes until late in first half stoppage time to get the breakthrough, but it came with Vixamar volleying in a long cross from Bello to the back post. After midfielder Victor Delgado pounced on a turnover to make it 2-0 early in the second, Vixamar was at it again, latching onto another dangerous cross from Bello for his 6th of the weekend. The winger then returned the favor to the homegrown left back, sliding Bello through for the easy finish. For Vixamar, his weekend performance brought him to 9 goals and 7 assists in 6 matches during GA Cup qualifying, and the youngster definitely announced himself to scouts, journalists and fans in a big way.
Outside of Vixamar and Bello, there were plenty of other excellent performers over the two games for the U17’s. The back-line was superb throughout both matches, led by the center-back duo of Kendall Edwards and George Campbell. Holding mid Takuma Suzuki was great against the Revs, shutting down several attacks and spraying passes all over the field. The Japan-native was forced off early with an injury against New York, but his replacement Tarek Sirdah more than held his own and proved his quality as well.
The U17’s will move onto the Champions Division of the Generation adidas Cup, which will match them up with the best of the other MLS academies as well as some of the top clubs in the world. Last year, Atlanta United came up against the likes of River Plate, Real Madrid, Malaga, and Tijuana in the tournament, ultimately finishing 12th out of 16 teams. While they’ll look to improve that this time around, these types of games provide highly-beneficial development opportunities, and they will be important experience for those players involved.
Academy vs. USL
This past week saw the official beginning of preseason for ATL UTD 2, and on Sunday, the reserves got together for their first match together. The game was played in front of select media at the Training Ground against a familiar foe: Atlanta United’s U19 team. In a match broken up into three 20-minute periods, the pro side took a 3-0 win, with goals coming from 3 under-21 attackers: Yosef Samuel, Brian Gambarte, and Lagos Kunga.
One of the most intriguing sub-plots surrounding Scott Donnelly’s young side is the integration of current academy players in the team’s setup. Back in December, academy director Tony Annan hinted at the club’s plans, saying that between 5-6 players from the academy would be “regularly involved” at the USL level. Now that the team is fully operational, we’ve been able to see some of these plans in action, beginning with the club’s long-rumored signing of 19-year old academy alumni Laurent Kissiedou, who is already showing fans what he can do.
According to reports from Taylor Denman of the Gwinnett Daily Post, a handful of players from the U19’s played on both sides of Sunday’s scrimmage, first suiting up against the USL regulars before joining them in the final 20 minutes of the match. Donnelly was quoted saying this was a reward of sorts for these players, who had been training with the team throughout the week. ATL UTD 2’s next preseason bouts come this Saturday against collegiate sides Georgia State and Furman, and with only 10 outfield players on the roster and the first team in Charleston, they may call upon more academy guys for those matches. Whether that happens or not, it will be exciting to see which of the club’s top amateurs play up with the pros in 2018.
Back on the Road
Atlanta United’s academy gets back into their Development Academy schedule this weekend with their first out-of-state matches of the Spring schedule. The U13’s up through the U19’s will all be traveling up to North Carolina, with matches against North Carolina FC on Saturday and North Carolina Fusion on Sunday.
Back in mid-October, Atlanta United won all ten matches against NCFC and Fusion when the two clubs came to Marietta, however a lot has changed since then for everyone involved. As usual, North Carolina FC will present a strong challenge, with their 15’s, 17’s and 19’s all firmly in playoff position. There’s also the added intrigue of United potentially missing players who are in preseason with ATL UTD 2, and this weekend’s matches could give us a better idea of who is in the mix with the USL side. Whatever ends up happening, we’ll be covering it here, so be sure to stay informed.