Call-ups were the theme of the last week or so for Atlanta United’s youngest talents, both within the organization and outside of it. In this prospects recap, we bring you the academy’s results from an interesting weekend in North Carolina, three 2002’s who are making noise at the national team level, and a look at one player who has set the youth soccer scene alight over the last two weeks.
Moving on Up
One of the biggest indicators of future success at an MLS youth academy is whether or not a player can hold their own against older opponents. If Atlanta United had one goal with last weekend’s academy trip to North Carolina, where the club took on North Carolina FC and North Carolina Fusion, it was giving standout players chances to impress in that exact situation.
The U19s managed a pair of thrilling comebacks over the weekend, earning four points from two games. Chad Letts scored the opener on Saturday against NCFC, but the home side came out of halftime on fire, scoring four times in 16 minutes. Atlanta needed a brace from Dawson Gideon and a goal from substitute Omar Mustafic to pull back a wild 4-4 draw against an excellent opponent. The U19’s left it late again Sunday against the Fusion, going down 2-0 inside 15 minutes. James Brighton got one back before Letts and Blake White found the equalizer and eventual winner in the final five minutes.
An 88th minute penalty scored by Natneal McDonald was not enough to earn a result Saturday for the U17’s, who lost to NCFC by a 2-1 scoreline. The U17s made six changes to the starting XI that dominated the Generation adidas Cup qualifiers a week ago, with several players missing due to injuries, national team duty, or other opportunities (we’ll get to that later). Sunday’s match against the Fusion saw even more changes in a 2-1 win, with goals from 2002 attackers Wasswa Robbins and Jordan Matthews. Several U16 regulars made appearances over the weekend, including Matthews, Brandon Clagette, Trace Umstead and Juan Zuniga, while 2002 goalkeeper Donovan Jones also saw his first action between the sticks for the U17s.
Similarly, the club’s younger teams in NC were filled with players making the jump up an age group for the weekend. The U15s, missing several regulars, drew both matches 1-1, with goals from Joseph Collins and Aldo Campos over the two games. Five players from the U14s appeared for the squad, most notably the team’s leading goalscorer Alex Hernandez and recent U15 national team call-up Bryan Casanova. Similarly, the U13s leading scorer Jonathan Villal got his first chance with the U14 squad this weekend, and he took full advantage, bagging the only goal in a 1-0 win against NCFC.
National Team Duty Calls
For Atlanta United U17s Josh Francombe, Diego Lopez and Daniel Mangarov, the past week brought opportunities to showcase themselves on an international stage. After all three players put on some impressive displays off the bench for the Five Stripes at Generation adidas Cup, each joined their respective national team camps over the last seven days.
Francombe participated with the Wales U16s in a UEFA Development Tournament in Greece. Wales joined the hosts Greece, Slovakia and Russia for one of the many development tournaments that UEFA schedules across the continent for this age group. Francombe once again made a strong impression for the Welsh, starting two matches and coming up with an assist in two victories for his side. In a team containing youth from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, it’s impressive that the Wales FA made a point to find Francombe halfway across the globe, and it’s even more impressive to see the 15-year old making a consistent impact in the team.
Meanwhile, Lopez and Mangarov have both joined up with the most recent US U17 MNT camp out in Chula Vista, CA, taking place until March 4th. Both players have been involved with this age group many times before, and both are showing some positional versatility between club and country. ATL UTD 2’s Lopez has primarily played center forward with Atlanta’s U17s since joining the club, showing a real knack at finding space by drifting away from defenders. He’s been able to use this skill-set for the national team as well, playing at times as a second forward or attacking midfielder. Similarly, Mangarov has been typically used as a winger by the USYNT coaching staff, but recently has been getting minutes as a number 8 for Tony Annan’s academy side.
Rocketing up the Ranks
For many Atlanta United fans, last week’s U17 GA Cup academy matches served as a formal introduction to 17-year old Deedson Vixamar. The electrifying winger scored 6 goals, added 3 assists, and constantly terrorized opposing fullbacks. Both matches were streamed live on Facebook, and as a result, fans and national media took notice of Vixamar’s dominant display. Last weekend, the youngster made a similar impression at a higher level, appearing and scoring for ATL UTD 2 in their preseason match against Furman on Saturday in Marietta.
The situation surrounding Vixamar’s involvement with Atlanta United’s academy has been a bit peculiar. The Haitian-born winger has not appeared once for the club in the Development Academy, and it’s not really clear why that’s the case. He has been training throughout the season with the U17 team while playing with the academy in friendly matches and GA Cup. He’s also been playing in the USYS National League with his former club Kalonji Soccer Academy, where he leads the league with 13 goals in 6 games.
With his academy involvement limited by seemingly external forces, Atlanta United has decided to give Vixamar looks at the USL level this preseason, and it seems be a smart decision. Vixamar is a massive talent as evidenced by his recent performances, and it makes sense to keep giving him as many challenging experiences as possible. There’s a good chance Vixamar is back on the pitch next weekend when ATL UTD 2 concludes their preseason against Charlotte Independence, and with no academy games on the calendar, a few more of the club’s young talents could be joining him.