Hope springs eternal
Even in the most frustrating of seasons, there is always room for hope. That bright future was on full display at the club’s annual Academy dinner at Mercedes Benz stadium where academy players and their families were welcomed by the owner and chairman Arthur Blank, vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda, ATL UTD 2 head coach Jack Collison and Academy Director Matt Lawrey addressed the players. Though the club has yet to select its new club president, Darren Eales’ sense of style and spectacle were on full display in what was a truly impressive visual for current academy players and homegrown graduates like George Campbell were also in attendance.
Celebrating new beginnings
The 2022 Academy Dinner was one for the books pic.twitter.com/NH8qge1qUY
— ATLUTD Academy (@AcademyATLUTD) August 24, 2022
Shortly after the banquet, Atlanta United’s Academy announced its coaching staff for the 2022/2023 season. Members of the academy staff who will work with all of the teams or with specific position groups include Lewis Sharpe (Head of Goalkeeping), Karlie Paschall (Academy Fitness Coach), Greg Gandy and Jeff Paul (Academy Medical), Will Clayton (Academy Scout), Richard Wolff (Video Analyst), Michael Lynch (Academy Manager), Dean Atkins (Academy Foundation Phase Director), Alejandro Perez (Academy Foundation Phase Director), and Stewart Lathan and Kathryn Gregurke (Education and Player Care).
In its seventh season, the club will field 7 teams across three leagues. The U-12s will compete in the Southeastern Clubs Champions League (SCCL) against local club competition to minimize travel for the youngsters and maximize the regional development partnerships Atlanta United continues to foster and benefit from. In fact, thirteen players from the club’s Regional Development School will join the Academy this season, with 11 going to the U-12s and two to the U-13s. The U-12s’ coach Bruno Ramos joined the club in January from the Richmond Strikers where he served as the Boys Director of Futsal and Advanced Development Program. He will lead a group mostly made up of newcomers from around Atlanta and the North Georgia area plus a sizeable group of players beginning their second season at the U-12 level. These players were mostly born in 2010 or 2011.
The U-13s through U-17s will all compete in MLS NEXT, MLS’s youth development platform that includes a growing list of MLS and regional partner academies. Will Bates returns to coach the U-13s for a second season. Bates is a former striker at the University of Virginia and Seattle Sounders’ first-round 2013 MLS SuperDraft pick. Ricky Davey leads the U-14s this season after joining the staff from the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side Georgia Revolution FC last October. Davey is also a former assistant coach of Georgia State University men’s soccer.
Zach Herold, former US Youth National Team standout and 2010 MLS SuperDraft Pick, moves up to the U-15 squad after three years with the U-14s. This group of U-15s already has several interesting prospects headlined by goalkeeper Jonathan Ransom (‘08) who has already played up at the U-15 level in the previous season at the MLS NEXT tournament where he helped the U-15s on a cinderella run. He may become the best goalkeeping prospect we have produced so far. Cooper Sanchez and Michael Aldana are a couple of midfielders who are getting a lot of attention from national scouts as is defender Junior Enamorado.
Former Atlanta United midfielder Kevin Kratz returns for his second year as U-16 head coach. He will lead a group with a strong attack led by striker Ashton Gordon (‘07) and Rocket Ritarita (‘07) who can play as a wing or as a #10. Adyn Torres (‘07) is back in the midfield and will likely continue his role as a box-to-box style player with the grit of a holding midfielder.
Steve Covino, an original member of the Academy staff since 2016 will coach Atlanta’s U-17s. Their seasons will begin on the weekend of September 10th. The U-17s will feature another one of the club’s exciting goalkeeping prospects Nash Skoglund (‘06). This summer, Skoglund joined Atlanta United 2 and has appeared on their bench as the backup keeper behind Vicente Reyes for several weeks. With Reyes heading to Chile for a U-20 call-up and Garces still out, Skoglund could potentially make his USL Championship debut. The star of the show though will be the academy’s next star fullback, Malachi Grant (‘06). Grant has played at both fullback positions and brings a lot of quality to both sides of his game. He will likely settle in at left-back as his main position and could be in line to be Caleb Wiley’s (‘04) successor once Wiley is sold to Europe in 2024 or 2025.
The U-19s will remain for the second year in the 4th division (semi-pro) United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) Georgia Division where players will face off against older opponents, former college players, and top local U-23 teams like Kalonji Pro Profile. The U-19s had very strong fall and spring seasons last year in the league finishing in the top-2 or 3 in the league both times with a close loss in the final in the fall playoffs. This competition catapulted several emergent players like Andy Sullins to the 2s before leaving for college. Jose Silva returns to coach the U-19s for the second year running. Silva previously coached for two years as an assistant with Orlando City B. This is a very exciting group of players and a very exciting direction for the club to take because it isn’t just our U-19 players but also a few of our former academy graduates like Alhaji Tambadu (‘98), Lio Touroude (‘98), and Betwel Mateyo (‘03). We’ve already seen the “U-19s” as a springboard for Andy Sullins and Andrew De Gannes to get to the 2s so maybe we can consider this to be our U-23 team and a trial team for current and former academy players looking to sign their first contract with the club. It also allows players from outside of the academy like AJ Pama, Trace Higham, and Gabriel Nickerson to trial for their opportunity to join the club. Last year’s version of this team was already highly competitive in the 4th division UPSL Georgia league by dominating the regular season and making strong runs in the playoffs in both the fall and spring seasons. With older talent returning to the team, this group may be in line to bring home another trophy for the club’s cabinet. But the real stars of the show will be homegrown candidates Luke Brennan and Alan Carleton. Both players have excelled with the 2s and will continue to split their time between the upper levels of the academy and the reserve team. The big question is how many of these guys follow in the footsteps of Vicente Reyes, Jon Villal, David Mejia, and Noah Cobb to sign their first professional contract with the 2s this winter.
Congratulations to the players and academy staff, and best of luck this season.