Player development is an essential element to a team’s success in soccer. Players are born with natural talent but no player achieves a level of success with talent alone. No player, no matter how talented, reaches the top without putting time, sweat, and hard work into mastering their craft.
However, for a young and aspiring player, guidance from experienced people is the key for their growth and progression. This is where soccer academies come into play. Academies become the ground where these players can learn more about the sport, and for teams to discover untapped potential. A great example is Atlanta United’s Soccer Academy.
The city of Atlanta was the second-largest US market without a MLS team. In 2016, that all changed when Atlanta United FC joined the league. However, that does not tell the story about the young talent in the Atlanta area. Even before Atlanta United FC played their first game in the MLS, the abundance of talent and soccer fans was already present. As a matter of fact, 5 of the 22 U.S. Under-17 players that were called up to the August camp in 2016 were from Atlanta. These 5 eventually became part of Atlanta United’s academy. MLS clubs had been scouting talent in Atlanta for years, but It wasn’t until the team decided to form an academy in a joint merger with Georgia United. In the words of United FC’s academy director and coach, Tony Annan, “I always knew Atlanta had a good pool of players. It was just a matter of getting them together and putting them in the right environment.” It was the time and the perfect environment, with the academy’s team winning the Under-16 National Cup in 2017.
Over the last few years, one factor has become apparent for a team’s success- big transfer signings. While the top 5 leagues in Europe have their respective academies as well and intensive player development, transfer and big signings often tell the story of a team’s success. These clubs participate in multiple competitions like the UEFA Champions League, as well as their respective leagues and cups. It becomes difficult for a young player to have any playing time or to see a homegrown player in these matches. As a result, it limits the player’s chances to go to the next level.
What Atlanta United has done differently is to prioritize youth development. The first team still makes transfers and big signings, but the academy’s goal is to develop the talent of their local players so that they can have the opportunity to go to the next level, whether it’s collegiate or professional soccer. The academy utilizes the same world-class facilities and quality sports science technology that the first team uses.
The academy has seen a total of 9 graduates so far that have made the Atlanta United FC and Atlanta United 2 team. George Campbell, Jackson Conway, and George Bello, are just a few of the young and up-in-coming stars that have been given the life-changing opportunity to compete at the highest level. Through hard work and guidance from Atlanta United’s Soccer Academy, many athletes have also received college soccer scholarships, ensuring them an opportunity to continue playing while receiving a higher education.
The beauty of soccer is its inclusivity, connectivity, and its ability to bring people together. Anyone can succeed if given the opportunity to do so. Atlanta United Soccer Academy was developed to find and help local talent. Through hard work, perseverance, and guidance, players not only expand their skills, but learn about teamwork and learn from each other. Soccer is not just an avenue to showcase exceptional talent, but also an avenue for progress and a platform for change.