Stats Stories

Staying on Track: Atlanta United’s Noah Cobb among world’s most utilized young center backs


As Atlanta United, and MLS, develops deeper knowledge and use of data analytics, we’ll be taking a look behind the curtain at some of the specific stats the club values. In our new weekly content series, we examine one metric provided by StatsBomb that may not stand out on a first watch, but upon closer evaluation, is a useful tool to measure the team’s performance. This is Staying on Track presented by MARTA.

Eight Homegrowns players appeared in Atlanta United’s 3-0 victory in the Round of 32 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night. One of those was Noah Cobb, a Homegrown defender originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Cobb wasn’t in the starting XI for the Open Cup match Tuesday but came on early in the match to replace Stian Gregersen, who needed to be subbed off in the 11th minute due to injury.

It wasn’t a situation where Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda had to look far down his depth chart and select a player who might be making his debut against a lower division opponent. Cobb is one of the most experienced youngsters in the club, already accruing 532 minutes of MLS action in 2024 according to StatsBomb. He’s made nine career appearances in MLS play and appeared in the starting XI six times so far for the 5-Stripes in the regular season.

His playing time is among the top-ranked in the world for young players. Following the May 7 match against Minnesota United, Cobb ranks no. 15 across the world for number of minutes played by a center back under 19 years of age. That scope of data from StatsBomb includes 76 leagues and pretty much every semi-major leagues in the world.

Under those same filters, Cobb ranks third in North and South America combined.

For a player this age, minutes played is one of the greatest indicators of success, and this is a very positive sign for Cobb’s development. It shows not only a player’s potential, that they have more years ahead of them than say a 32-year-old who’s earning the same number of minutes, but also an ability to get on the field. Managers see their players train every day, so putting them in the starting lineup is a sign the player is performing on a day-to-day basis. For Cobb to be a first team starting center back in MLS, which requires defending quality strikers, shows great confidence in a player essentially the age of high school senior.

Cobb came through Atlanta United’s Academy, joining the U-12 squad, and worked his way up the ranks. He made his debut with Atlanta United 2 in July 2021 then became an Atlanta United Homegrown player just 18 months later in January 2023. He was part of the Academy’s U-14 side that won the prestigious Manchester City Cup in 2019, defeating Mexico’s Monterrey in the final 3-2.  

After making his second MLS start against New York City FC last season, Cobb reflected on his journey:

“Ever since I got to the Academy from Chattanooga, they believed in me enough to bring me into the Academy and from there, they just kept believing in me, and I felt that belief when they told me they believed in me,” Cobb said. “After training talks with Gonzo [Pineda], just 1-on-1, he’s told me he believes in me and telling me ‘Go be you. You don’t have to be anything other than you.’ So, that’s what I tried to do.”

Cobb’s minutes on the pitch place him on a list that features some of the brightest young stars around the world. On the list of most experienced young center backs is Leny Yoro out of Lille in France’s first division. Yoro is currently one of the most coveted young players in the world and is rumored to be suited by world-class clubs such as Real Madrid.

The youngest player on the list is Luka Vušković, ranked no. 3, out of Croatia. Currently just 17 years old, Vušković is a 6-foot-4 center back on track to become a globally recognized defender. Due to FIFA rules, he cannot join the English Premier League until he’s 18 years old, which didn’t stop Tottenham Hotspur from signing him through 2030. He’ll go to England next summer after he turns 18.

Just below Vušković at no. 4 is a player named Jorrel Hato. Hato plays for Ajax in Eredivisie, the Netherlands first division. At 18 years old, Hato has already been capped with the Dutch senior team. Like Yoro, he’s linked to several big-name clubs like Arsenal in the English Premier League.

It’s cool to see an Atlanta United Homegrown on a list of up-and-coming center backs around the world. A guy whose peers this time of year are planning senior skip days and picking out their outfits to wear to prom, Cobb is getting ready to mark top MLS scorers such as Christian Benteke this week and, possibly later this month, one of the world's greatest players of all-time: Lionel Messi.

Atlanta United's Data Scientist & Analyst Arjun Balaraman contributed to this story. Visualizations and video by Khoury Kennedy, Atlanta United's Motion Graphics Producer and Video Editor.

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