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Justin Garces working toward professional contract despite college commitment

The academy standout balances likely collegiate duties while chasing professional dream.

At 17, Atlanta United’s Justin Garces is the highest rated goalkeeper in the country for his age group. He was a regular starter for the U-17 USMNT during their quarterfinal run at last year’s World Cup, and his tremendous club season with the U-19 academy earned him Eastern Conference Player of the Year honors earlier this week.

Last February, Garces signed a National Letter of Intent to play at UCLA this upcoming fall. However, the Miami native has made two starts for Atlanta United 2 this past month and showcased his skill with a double save against Nashville SC on June 30, which was awarded the USL Save of the Week.

As his stock rises and professional opportunities present themselves, one can only wonder if Atlanta is interested in potentially signing the keeper to a homegrown or USL contract, which would keep Garces in Atlanta rather than let him head to UCLA. Garces told reporters last week that it would be difficult to turn down an offer if it were to come.

“My main goal is to become a professional,” Garces said. “Whether it’s getting games in the USL or as a homegrown, I feel like playing now is only going to help me on my path later on.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that an up-and-coming Atlanta academy player snubbed their initial college commitment for a professional contract, as Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo both chose to sign on as homegrowns rather than attend their verbal commitments of Furman and Virginia respectively.

Newly minted Atlanta United 2 Player Alessandro Castro also faced a similar decision before he made the choice to sign with the reserves last week.

“I had some college offers, but at the end of the day, everyone has their own route,” said Castro. “My route was to go pro as soon as possible because I felt like if I could start off learning at a younger age, it would be easier for me to develop into a better player. That’s what I’m here for. It was an easy choice for me.”

ATL UTD 2 head coach Scott Donnelly weighed in on a potential dilemma coming up soon for Garces and discussed the positives and negatives of both sides.

“It’s different for every player,” said Donnelly. “There’s no ‘one size fits all’ and I honestly think that’s a bit of a myth in this country that people have the answer to that because it all comes down to the individual player...The case for him to go to UCLA, which is a good program, is will he get a number of high-level games as an 18-year-old? Will he potentially get more games there than he would here? However, if he’s pushing to be on the field every day, do we make the case for keeping him here? For Justin, the plan at the moment is for him to go to college.”

Although that might be the plan for now, the club will have to think long and hard about offering Garces a professional outlet with a resume as impressive as his. If an official offer does come in, Garces certainly wouldn’t mind staying with Atlanta United.