Two of the world’s most prestigious youth tournaments have recently concluded, and Atlanta United’s participants have come away with some great experience and some hard-earned lessons. In this week’s recap, we break down each team’s performance in their respective tournaments, and we bring you up to speed on the academy’s return to DA games this weekend.
Tough Sledding in Dallas
Atlanta United’s U19’s took part in the Dallas Cup Gordon Jago Super Group, a 12 team tournament that is widely regarded as the most prestigious youth soccer event in the United States. The Five Stripes took a solid group of players down to the Lone Star state for three games against Spanish side Real Oviedo, Brazilian club EC Vitoria, and Mexican powerhouse CF Monterrey.
The tournament began with a 3-1 loss to a strong Real Oviedo side. Atlanta was able to hold off EC Vitoria and earn a 0-0 draw in an intense affair, however with just one point through 2 matches, any hope of advancing to the semifinals was pretty much gone. In the 3rd game against eventual group-winners Monterrey, Atlanta went down 1-0 early before equalizing through a nice looping shot by striker Chad Letts. The Five Stripes gave up a couple of unlucky goals before James Brighton forced an own goal to make it 3-2, but that was how the match would end.
The U19’s had a bit of a different look about them in this match than usual with a handful of players coming in to bolster the side. ATL UTD 2 winger Brian Gambarte made his first appearances at any level for the club in the competition as he and fellow Newell’s Old Boys loanee Gaston Cardozo still await their USL debuts. Fellow attacker Deedson Vixamar also played with the U19’s, playing up two years from his 2001 age group. Atlanta also took the opportunity to bring in a guest player on the back line, center back Jack Maher. Maher is a highly-rated defender out of the St. Louis FC academy, and the Indiana commit has been named to the bench for the USL club twice already in 2018.
GA Cup Struggles
While the U19’s were competing in Dallas, Atlanta United’s U17’s were across town in Frisco to play in the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division, for which they had qualified by winning the East Region qualifying tournament. Their group opponents consisted of Ecuador’s Independiente Del Valle, fellow-MLS side Portland Timbers, and Brazilian mega-club Flamengo.
The opener against Independiente Del Valle was an even affair, with both teams stringing together good moments but not many great scoring opportunities. The match ended 0-0, with the Ecuadorians winning a penalty shootout to take the extra point. Against the Timbers, United took a dominant 3-0 victory with all 3 goals coming from striker Jackson Conway. The nation’s leading scorer in the Development Academy would finish with ten total goals between GA Cup qualifying and the final tournament, proving to be one of the best forwards in the competition.
Atlanta United were in position to make the semifinals with a win against Flamengo, but were instead beaten 3-1 by a very professional Brazilian side. Despite dominating long stretches of the match, United couldn’t capitalize on their chances, while Flamengo took advantage of a couple mistakes to earn the result. George Bello scored a penalty for Atlanta in what would be his last match of the competition; the 16-year old returned to Atlanta to eventually make his pro debut for ATL UTD 2 on Saturday.
With a 3rd place group finish, the Five Stripes would contest two more matches at the GA Cup. A young, much-changed side lost 1-0 to the LA Galaxy in a frustrating match for really both teams. In the final game, United drew 2-2 with French Ligue 1 champions AS Monaco, who would win a shootout 4-2. The match featured a penalty from Natneal McDonald and a set-piece goal from Kendall Edwards.
Despite the results not being what they were looking for, both the U19’s and U17’s were able to compete against top competition from around the world and, in most cases, implement the usual high-pressing, possession-based Atlanta United style of play against their opponents. Perhaps the biggest lesson the youngsters can take from their competition is how to get results even when things are not going right, something the first team displayed on Saturday in Minnesota. Either way, Atlanta’s academy players will be much better off for having played in these events and will be able to take their experiences back into their regular season schedules.
Speaking of Regular Season Schedules...
The academy returns to their Development Academy matches this week, with the U13’s up through the U19’s at the training ground for a weekend double-header. The U15’s, 17’s and 19’s will entertain South Florida-based clubs Weston FC and Kendall SC, while the younger squads will take on ISL FC and North Carolina FC South from the Tar Heel state.
Weston and Kendall both hail from greater Miami, and as the top two youth clubs in one of the biggest hotbeds for young talent, these two teams are never short on exciting players. These two sides gave United plenty of trouble when they played down in Miami in November, where the U19’s lost both games and the U17’s lost a tight match against Weston. There’s also a home game for the USL team on Sunday, and after seeing U19 captain Will Crain make the ATL UTD 2 bench on Saturday, coach Scott Donnelly may be bringing in more academy call-ups for that one. With just seven games left in the regular season, these match-ups will certainly have playoff implications for the older teams, so keep up to date on how things go this weekend in Marietta.