Atlanta United’s academy national title illuminates bright future

Atlanta United midfielder Andrew Carleton helped youth academy U-15/16's secure a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas for a national championship
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Similar to reading a good book, it gets better with every flip of the page for Atlanta United. The youth academy made the rest of the world aware that the abundance of talent extends beyond United’s first team. It may be a story that is still being written, but it’s well on its way to a best seller.

Another chapter concluded over the weekend as the first trophy in the club’s inaugural season reached the city of Atlanta. United’s Under-15/16s earned a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas developmental academy in the national championship game for the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy (USSDA).

“It’s unbelievable for the club,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “I know how hard the academy guys work. It’s a great accomplishment. You don’t become national champions that easily.”

Gressel enjoyed an identical run for glory in college with the Providence Friars. He understands the difficulty that comes with chasing such a feat. The 23-year-old, who is also on the MLS Rookie of the Year watch list, aided the Friars towards reaching the 2013 Big East Men’s Soccer Tournament. His team lost to Marquette. In his senior season, the Friars fell short in the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship to North Carolina.

Several months ago, United’s youth academy didn’t contain a single player. Now, the team finished the season with a 24-4-8 record and paraded back home with hardware.

On top of that, the U-15/16s achieved a Player of the Year Award, a Goal of the Year Award and had two players sign to the senior team.

“It’s really important for the club, especially as we are a new team, an expansion team in our first year,” defender Leandro González Pírez said. “We just want to support them and congratulate them and we already said something to (Andrew Carleton).”

Carleton stole the spotlight in the finale — and did so with style.

After a deadlock at halftime between both sides, United found its groove. Carleton’s one shining moment ensued in the 64th minute. The first-ever Homegrown player for United stepped up for a free kick outside the box and delivered a screamer past the wall, capturing a 1-0 lead. Minutes succeeding the opening goal, Carleton notched a brace by blasting a 25-yard volley into the back of the net. It later proved to be the game winner as FC Dallas edged a goal in stoppage time.

Players like defender Michael Parkhurst and Gressel took to Twitter to salute the youth academy and its victory.

Even better, it sparked a fire within the club. It added motivation for United’s first team to garner a trophy of its own and emulate what the youth academy was able to accomplish, but doing so in the MLS.

“We know as the current guys that it’s important for the club to have good players,” Pírez said. “It shows that we have a bright future.”