Three Academy players sign homegrown contracts
Three of the Atlanta United Academy's brightest stars took a huge step toward their dreams of a career in professional soccer this month. Lagos Kunga, Patrick Okonkwo and George Bello were all officially signed to the first team on homegrown contracts and were given a standing ovation at Bobby Dodd stadium during halftime of Atlanta's match against the Columbus Crew.
You can read all about their growth, and get reaction from the coaches here. Plus, check out their reactions just moments after their unforgettable moment on the Bobby Dodd field right here:
Academy stars get their own version of the Five Stripes
Atlanta United Academy players got some new threads, their own version of the Five Stripes this month. Suntrust Bank was officially unveiled as the shirt sponsors for all of our academy teams last year, but the new kits were officially unveiled this month. Check out the release video for their new jerseys here:
Academy’s U16S, U18s learn playoff opponents, begin play next week
After a successful regular season, which featured a pair of Southeast Division titles, Atlanta United’s Academy U-18s and U-16S will begin postseason play next weekend Westfield, Ind. Each team was slotted into a four-team group that will run from June 22-26 with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
For Atlanta United Academy Director Tony Annan, the club has made tremendous strides for just being in its first year. While there’s always a fine line in youth soccer between positive on-field results and development, Annan has a clear mind for what he wants to see from his teams, regardless of how long each team’s postseason lasts.
“We want to see that we’ve made progress from August to June,” Annan said. “We want to see that we’ve made strides as individuals and made strides as a team. We’ve had a great year, we’ve been very competitive and the results have gone favorably. But when it comes down to the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Still, that won’t deter Annan’s group from reaching the ultimate goal.
“But at the end of the day, we’re not going down there not to win,” he said. “We want to win games and we want to win championships. It’d be lovely to win a championship in our first year. It’s not the be-all, end-all of why we’re there. But I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to win one or the other.”
Nationally top-seeded U18s
Start with the U18s, which finished the season 23-2-5 (74 points) and as the No. 1 overall national seed. They were drawn into Group B with Sporting Kansas City (15-8-3, 48 points), FC Boston Bolts (12-6-6, 42 points) and LA Galaxy (17-11-8, 59 points). Each of the three teams have a historically strong program and present a tough group for the U-18s.
“We consider it a very competitive group,” Academy Director Tony Annan said. “All three teams did very well in the season and we expect three really competitive games. We’re going to need to be at our best to get out of the group.”
Of the three, Sporting Kansas City finished with the best points-per-game ratio. The club’s U18s also won their group last year before ultimately falling 1-0 to eventual champion FC Dallas in the quarterfinals.
“SKC, they’ve got a lot of good players, their academy has made leaps and bounds,” Annan said. “While LA might have struggled to get in, they’ve got pedigree and good players. As I said, we’re really going to need to be at our best.”
U16s group might be tougher
The U16s finished the season 19-4-7 (64 points) and as the No. 3 overall national seed. They were drawn into Group A with Players Development Academy (15-6-5, 50 points), Chicago Fire (15-8-2, 47 points) and Montreal Impact (13-6-7, 46 points).
“Again it’s a group of MLS clubs with pedigree, history and competitive squads; it makes it really tough,” Annan said. “You can’t count PDA out, they’re a hard-working, very well organized and coached club. They produce good players and good teams. For us, the U16s draw is just as tough as the 18s, if not a little tougher.”