Atlanta United has proven during its quick rise to the top of Major League Soccer that it is an organization committed to development and offers an environment full of opportunity. Julian Burdine and Ean Roberson embody that ethos, highlighting what happens within Atlanta United when opportunity meets hard work.
For the second consecutive year, Atlanta United’s Regional Development School (RDS) had a pair of players earn a spot on the club’s U-12 Academy team. RDS is the club’s pre-Academy feeder system and is a tryout-based program focused on creating high-level training environments to push and challenge advanced level players.
Roberson joined RDS in November 2019 when it launched its inaugural goalkeeping course. This year, he became the first goalkeeper from RDS to be selected to the Academy. Burdine joined RDS in February 2020 and quickly impressed coaches with his technical ability, earning his call up to the U-12s.
“Both players did a fantastic job of going through our tryout process and showing a good attitude and application to make the program in the first place,” said Dean Atkins, Director of Coach and Education Development. “What we are looking for in players participating in the program is for those that make not only themselves better, but also push the others in the group. Both players showed a fantastic attitude towards their own improvement and held themselves accountable to try and get better in every session. It is no surprise to us that they have gone on to be selected for the academy.”
Each player took advantage of their time in front of Atlanta United’s Academy staff, one of the benefits of the RDS program. As they make the jump to the next level, Roberson and Burdine will continue their development under the guidance of U-12 head coach Kellington Boddie, who was also recently promoted after serving as a coach in RDS for the last two years.
“It’s cool because it shows the players throughout the state that you can make the jump to the Academy,” said Boddie. “It doesn’t have to be at a big club. You can start through RDS and work your way up. Similar to the way I did in the coaching ranks, just making that steppingstone and showing kids that it can be done. Julian and Ean are a good example of that.”
Internal promotion has been commonplace at Atlanta United this year, with the First Team calling on Stephen Glass to become interim head coach, joining Rob Valentino who was called up from ATL UTD 2 to become an assistant coach on the First Team in 2019. That trend has been present in nearly every level of the club including the Training Programs, and Boddie believes it will inspire players to work harder.
“They stick to their guns when they say that we are promoting from within and keeping the culture running,” said Boddie. “It starts at the top and it trickles down through every level. Hopefully that with coaches like myself, we can show the players that if you work hard and follow the club’s values you can move up as well.”
Before Atlanta United ever took the field in MLS, it laid the groundwork for the club in 2016 by becoming the first organization in league history to launch its Academy a year prior to its First Team. That commitment to youth has been pervasive throughout the organization for the last five years and continues through RDS, which is forming a tangible connection from the Training Programs to the Academy with players like Burdine and Roberson.
“We’re trying to add as many eyes of qualified coaches and people that know the game to push the best kids to the Academy,” said Boddie. “We want these players to get into the Academy early so we can turn them into professionals and represent Atlanta United as senior players. We’re showing players that they do have the opportunity. It is right in their state and they are a hop and a skip away from fulfilling their dream of being a pro.”
Due to the pandemic, RDS was forced to cancel its Spring season. But Atkins and his staff adapted its training methods in order to deliver its Summer program in a safe and professional environment. As the year winds down, RDS is planning for its biggest season yet in 2021.
“As the program grows, we can expect to see more players that have been through the Regional Development School curriculum and methodology, so it prepares them for the Academy,” said Atkins. “We didn’t manage to finish our winter season until recently, and we weren’t able to get in a Spring RDS season. So, we know that there are other talented players out there and we can’t wait to grow and identify more players for the Academy in the future.”
RDS currently has six locations and has plans to expand, allowing coaches to identify talented players throughout the state. As the program grows, travel for the players minimizes which will increase the opportunities to get in front of Atlanta United coaches, grow their skills and potentially advance through the Training Programs.
“We will do the driving,” said Atkins. “We come out to those areas so that parents don’t have to travel as much. It also gives us a greater reach in terms of players that we can see, rather than just the home base of Marietta where the Academy plays. So, momentum is definitely on the side of the program. You can expect to see new locations in the future and RDS camps, representing a bunch of different ways to be identified by the Academy.”
For more information on RDS and all of Atlanta United’s youth development programs, visit atlutd.com/training.