ATLANTA — For many, returning home to accomplish a goal never happens, but four Atlanta United players will be doing just that as they step foot into Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium in the heart of Atlanta on March 5.
Mark Bloom, Alec Kann, Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, each of whom all grew up in Georgia, will have the chance to play just miles from where they first began to play soccer.
Bloom, a 29-year-old defender from Marietta who was once overlooked by many universities and teams, is thrilled to be back home, though he has had to overcome his fair share of trials along the way.
“It’s incredible,” Bloom said. “Honestly, I didn’t think that it would happen. This business isn’t a business where you get to decide where you want to go. Just to have everything work out and for me to come back home is a huge blessing for me.”
Kann, the 26-year-old goalkeeper from Decatur, is no stranger to the MLS landscape as he, like Bloom, has been playing in the league since 2013, but it was on Dec. 13 that his career took a dramatic turn: He was selected as the No. 9 pick in the 2016 MLS Expansion Draft by the hometown club.
“I was in shock. Other people heard before I did,” Kann said. “My mom, my brother, and my dad were calling me. I wasn’t expecting to get picked. I was just eating lunch with a friend and my phone started blowing up, and I was like, ‘Wait, the expansion draft is going on right now?’ and that’s when I got the idea of what was happening.”
Kann said that through the years things haven’t always been easy, but that at the end of the day it is those who embrace challenges that succeed.
“Everyone has a story, injuries, things like that. Being hurt, being told you aren’t good enough are things that come with the business, but the people that come back after setbacks are the ones that have long careers,” Kann said. “I think after a certain point you have to be very self motivated to make it in any sport or business. I am very self motivated, and my family is. I feel like I represent them, my friends, and all the people I know in Atlanta.”
Unlike Kann and Bloom, both of whom have years of professional experience under their belts, Carleton and Goslin enter the Atlanta United fold with different stories to tell.
At just 16 years old, the two best friends have defied the odds to make it to the elite level — just weeks after getting their driver licenses.
“It was a dream come true to be able to play professional soccer here in my hometown,” Powder Springs midfielder Carleton said. “It was a great feeling to have all of the hard work that I have put in, to be awarded with the chance to play here in my hometown and not have to go anywhere and deal with the travel and move away from home.”
Carleton and Goslin are stepping into more prominent roles, but they aim to embrace the opportunity as they watch their dreams become reality.
“Just getting used to playing with the grown men and all,” Carleton said of the adjustments. “Being 16 and not being quite as big and old as they are will be difficult, but I feel like I will be able to adapt to it and continue to grow.”
For Goslin, the midfielder from Locust Grove, getting to play in front of his father, who has motivated him to do his best every day, is what he looks forward to most.
“My dad got me into soccer, he played when he grew up. He introduced it to me. I played it with him when I was younger and loved it since then,” Goslin said. “He has been my main supporter since day one, and just having him there by my side is nothing that I can really explain.”
While the roster may be young — and MLS new to Atlanta — the leader behind the team is one all the players admire.
“It’s amazing to know where he (Gerardo “Tata” Martino) has been and to have him here coaching,” Bloom said of his new manager. “It’s a bit surreal, but at the same time, it is an opportunity for all of us to learn and to soak up all he has to offer.”
At the end of the day, these homegrown players show that hard work and motivation pays off.
“That’s one reason why I love my story, where I came from, and how I got to where I got to,” Bloom said. “Not being highly recruited out of high school, going to a smaller college, kind of going the back way, and going the hard way just goes to show that anything is possible, and that any kid can do anything. They can dream big and follow their dreams.”