Efrain Morales, a 15-year old defender in Atlanta United’s academy, will be on his way to England to train with Manchester United, according to a report from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Please check out the story for more context and quotes from Academy Director Tony Annan.
It’s interesting news, and I’m sure some will see it as a promising sign that the academy is producing, while simultaneously wishing to see Morales return so that we may eventually see him come up through the domestic system and even play for the first team in Mercedes-Benz Stadium some day.
Let’s unpack this into the two parts of that statement.
This news is undoubtedly a sign that the local academy is providing a visible pathway for young players to achieve their professional dreams, whether here or abroad. That is the most important point, first and foremost. If Atlanta — as a geographic recruitment area — is to produce talented players, said talent (and their families) need to see a pathway to the professional ranks that is financially and professionally viable. Soccer players, probably moreso than talent in other sports, need to adopt the game and play competitively at younger ages, and the Academy is providing that.
For the Atlanta United Academy to be able to brand itself as one that can produce players that can compete at every level of the professional ranks — from the top clubs in Europe to here at home — is tangible evidence that this is a worthwhile endeavor for a young athlete. And the more families that pursue this path means that more and more young talent will be uncovered and developed.
As for potentially losing a talented youngster to a top club (and we are far from that in this case, as this is just a training exhibition), it’s really a small price to pay. After all, this is why solidarity payments exist — so that if players like Morales do turn out, the club will be compensated (though the equity of such payments can be debated). But this early in a player’s development, it’s a frivolous task to even debate how much of an impact a 15-year-old could make down the line.
The most important thing, and the real reason the Atlanta United Academy exists, is to put young players in the best position to succeed at the highest levels possible. This news is evidence of exactly that. So good luck to Efra!