Atlanta United is well represented during MLS All-Star Week. Not only are five regular first team players expected to take the field against Juventus on Wednesday, but homegrowns Andrew Carleton and Lagos Kunga will also represent the Five Stripes a day earlier as they’re set to participate in the Homegrown Game against the U20 academy team of Liga MX’s Tigres.
The rising stars of MLS will be coached by a familiar face, as Atlanta’s academy director Tony Annan takes charge. Annan, who has coached in the Atlanta area for over 20 years, is very familiar with club homegrowns Carleton, George Bello, Chris Goslin, and Patrick Okonkwo in particular. They go back years before Atlanta United was even announced, when Annan was a founder, coach, and director of local youth club Georgia United before it was largely absorbed by the MLS side as they began building their academy in 2016.
Annan caught the attention of president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra early on in the building process, with Eales describing his development of youth talent as “superb and innovative” while also applauding Annan’s philosophy and attitude.
Two years after joining Atlanta United, Annan is preparing to guide some of the best young players in MLS for a showcase game against a quality opponent. It helps to have a player on one’s side like Carleton, who has trained under Annan since he was 13. After completing the first day of homegrown game preparations on Sunday, the young talent spoke to reporters and credited Annan’s work ethic for getting him to this point.
“He deserves to get this opportunity and he’s worked really hard,” said Carleton. “I know he’s excited for this opportunity on Tuesday. He’s worked his way up the ladder. I was excited when I saw he was going to be the coach.”
Annan echoed a similar sentiment.
“Andrew has worked hard to get this opportunity,” said Annan. “I’m proud of him and the process he’s going through. In Andrew’s case, to be rewarded with first team starts, the sky’s the limit. He just has to understand the process he’s in. I’m over the moon that Andrew’s here. I’m proud that we have the opportunity to represent Atlanta.”
It’s been quite the ride for these two over the past couple of years, who have developed quite the relationship on and off the field.
“I’m happy that he’s happy for me because that means a lot to me,” said Annan.
Catch the MLS Homegrown Game Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. at Atlanta United’s training ground. Buy tickets here.