With most of the older teams taking the weekend off, some of Atlanta United Academy’s younger talents got a chance to step into the spotlight. In this Halloween edition of the prospects recap, we go in depth on the U13 and U14 showcase and how some of the young Five Stripes got on.
Impressive Showing at Showcase
This weekend was the Development Academy’s East Region Showcase near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, an event bringing together all of the U13 and U14 teams up and down the DA’s Eastern seaboard. At these ages, the regions used for creating regular season schedules are smaller and the number of clubs in a given area is greater. As a result, finding competitive matches week-in-week-out becomes a greater challenge, especially for the well-resourced MLS clubs like Atlanta United. The fall showcase provides a chance for teams to test themselves against some of the best opponents around, and it’s also a chance for US Soccer to scout a lot of upcoming young talent in one place with hopes of identifying the next youth national team stars.
The U13’s got things kicked off on Friday afternoon with two games against Cedar Stars Academy and New York Red Bulls, both 55 minutes in length as according to the competition rules. United beat Cedar Stars 1-0 before losing to the Red Bulls in a 4-3 goal-fest. Saturday, the Five Stripes took on DC United and won 3-1 in the full-length 70 minute contest. The U14’s played their two shortened games on Saturday and earned a draw and a win on the day, tying 1-1 with FC Boston Bolts before beating DC United 2-1. Sunday’s U14 contest was live streamed by the Development Academy on their website, ending 5-2 in favor of the opponents, Philadelphia Union.
While the teams both played well and got a lot out of the event, there were some noteworthy individual performances as well. The U14’s were led up top by striker Alex Hernandez, who scored twice in three games, while the back line was anchored by center-back Nigel Prince. Prince was born in 2004, but has been starting with the 2003 team for most of the 2017 calendar year and looks to be a real player to watch for the future. Meanwhile, U13 striker Jonathan Villal continued his incredible form with four goals in 3 games, bringing him to 15 in 12 matches. This comes after Villal bagged six goals in one match last weekend against Fayetteville-based club AFC Lightning.
Realistically, it will be 2-3 years before anyone playing this weekend in United colors will be pushing for a professional deal, and results should take a back seat to things like ingraining styles of play and club culture. Some of these elements were on full display on Sunday’s live-streamed U14 match. Despite losing to a very good Philadelphia team, United U14’s were already very adept at both playing out of the back and keeping possession. They also looked to press high up the pitch while defending and break quickly when they gained possession, both hallmarks of Tata Martino’s tactical system. Perhaps the most entertaining action was on the sideline, where the U13 team spent the match running up and down to follow the action and leading A-T-L chants. Getting to see how Tony Annan’s academy is incorporating the cultural and tactical elements that are derived from the first team, even at its lowest levels, was a real treat.
More Pro Academies Coming to Marietta
Two lower division clubs that Atlanta United has never faced on either the professional or academy level will bring their best youth talents to the CHOA Training Ground this weekend. Saturday will see the U17’s and U15’s take on the Jacksonville Armada Academy, while the U15’s will play Tampa Bay United Rowdies on Sunday. Meanwhile, the U12’s, 13’s and 14’s will be at the Allen Creek Soccer Complex in Gainesville to play Lanier SA.
Jacksonville Armada are newcomers to the Development Academy in the 2017-18 season and one of many lower division professional clubs in the US beginning to heavily invest in their youth. Under the new ownership of local businessman Robert Palmer, the Armada are investing heavily on both the first team and the youth, with elite academies on both the boys and girls side. In contrast, Tampa Bay United are a long-standing youth soccer power in the Tampa area that formed a partnership with the Rowdies in the last year. Both clubs will be excited for their first crack at Atlanta United this weekend, so stay tuned to see how it goes.