Fellow Five Stripes fans, we finally have an update on the upcoming academy season. This has been a wild year for the youth game in our country with COVID and the USSDA’s collapse throwing competition, schedules, and the future of many players into doubt. American youth soccer was forced to reinvent itself in the midst of one of the most turbulent years our society has experienced in generations. Out of necessity, the USL and MLS announced their own visions for academy competition that approach the youth game with differing priorities but with great shared ambition. Even though the schedule and competition format for the MLS proposal is yet to be released, we are assured Atlanta United will have regional opponents and valuable training opportunities in the very near future.
Atlanta United’s academy will spend its 2020-2021 season competing in the ECNL Boys’ Southeastern Conference. Some of our opponents will sound familiar to fans and families who follow the youth game. Atlanta United will be one of seven Georgia teams in the conference, including: Atlanta Fire United, Concorde Fire Platinum, Concorde Fire Premier, GSA, Top Hat/NASA, and United Futbol Academy. Other regional rivals will include Birmingham United’s Academy (Alabama FC), Chattanooga Red Wolves’ academy, FC Alliance of Knoxville and Tennessee SC of Franklin.
The regular season will focus primarily on conference competition but will also include national events in Nevada, South Carolina, Florida, California, and Virginia building up to national playoffs in June of 2021. The league will compete in 6 age groups from the U-13s to the U-18/19s and will offer opportunities for professional and collegiate scouting at major events. Atlanta United will compete in the ECNL’s U-14, U-15, U-16, and U-18/19 age groups, and have likely made arrangements for competition alternatives for their U-12 and U-13 teams that do not require as much travel. These competition schedules project out to December so it is entirely possible that ECNL’s national events, the USL Academy League and the MLS Elite Competition Platform will begin in the spring. Birmingham and Chattanooga may leave to focus on USL competition and Atlanta may leave to focus on MLS competition.
The first matches are set for the end of August so we will likely have a lot more academy news coming your way soon as rosters are released, statements are made, and the path forward becomes more apparent.
For now, it is exciting to see that youth sports are back and we as fans will have the opportunity to cheer for the next waves of talent set to join the 2’s, the professional ranks, and our growing collegiate diaspora.