Tuesday, Atlanta United announced its ambitious plan to compete across three different platforms for the upcoming academy season. The academy aims to integrate its teams into the newly branded MLS NEXT platform while also maintaining a healthy dose of regional competition for the U-13’s through U-19s against Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) opponents. The U-12’s will focus exclusively on local competition in the Southeastern Clubs Champions League to eliminate the burden of travel for the youngest players and their families.
“After careful consideration, we made the decision to play games across three platforms of competition so we can get the maximum exposure and development opportunities for our players,” Atlanta United Academy Director Tony Annan said. “Each of these programs offer high-level competition that is vital to our overall philosophy, and we’re truly excited to be competing in each of them. We feel strongly that this approach and increasing focus on games will help us continue to develop players in an effort to reach their full potential.”
Atlanta’s U-14s, U-15s, U-16s, U-19s currently compete in the newly revamped ECNL Boys Southeast Conference for the 2020-2021 season.
MLS NEXT competition begins this weekend with Atlanta United taking on the Southern Soccer Academy of Athens, Georgia who are a satellite affiliate of Chelsea. They are part of a long list of non-MLS teams who are founding members of the new MLS competition.
Due to on-going restrictions to youth sports in some parts of the country and the volatile nature of attempting organized athletics in a pandemic, the Fall 2020 schedule will be released in four-week phases to act on evolving health and safety recommendations. Competition will highlight local rivalries and eliminate air travel and overnight trips. High profile matches will be schedule at neutral sites in geographically centered locations.
The aim seems to be player-centric to emphasize quality competition and development.
“MLS NEXT advances player development in North America, furthering Major League Soccer’s commitment to developing world-class players through an elite competitive pathway,” said Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development. “Major League Soccer is excited to begin MLS NEXT competition which will place player development at the forefront while giving players a safe and healthy environment to advance from academies to MLS first teams.”
The MLS NEXT site emphasizes that the prestige of team wins and losses is of less interest to the program than its ability to produce high quality players who are ready to contribute for their parent clubs and abroad. Players will receive personal plans for their growth as a young professional, incorporating on-field training, strength and conditioning, academic assistance, college placement, and player-centric support structured to aid the individual player succeed.
MLS NEXT also plans to focus on advancing coaching education, personal development, player identification and community service to improve grassroots soccer across the country.
If you would like to learn more about MLS NEXT, here is an MLS academy-alumni virtual roundtable to talk about the importance of strengthening the academy infrastructure.