A historic day for the Atlanta United Academy, as the U-15/16’s won the U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Championship in their first season as a club.
Facing a powerhouse youth team and reigning champions in FC Dallas, Atlanta United Head Coach Tony Annan stuck with the same lineup that has been so successful in this playoff run, with Zyen Jones and Andrew Carleton constantly switching positions on either wing of the front three. The full lineup: Sai Brown (GK), Natnael McDonald (RB), Kendall Edwards (CB), William Crain (CB), George Bello (LB), Charlie Asensio (CM), Alessandro Castro (CM), Dylan Gaither (CM), Andrew Carleton (LW), James Brighton (ST), Zyen Jones (RW).
The opening stages were an even contest, and a prime display of why these two teams have risen above the rest as the cream of the crop in their age group, with FC Dallas technical in possession and Atlanta explosive and physical on the counter. Captain Will Crain made an especially vital intervention in the first ten minutes, expertly intercepting a dangerous through ball that could have let Dallas through on goal.
Through the half, the left wing became a crucial battleground with Bello facing Dallas' Bryan Padilla, both players having just earned Player of the Year honors for their regions earlier this weekend. Then Andrew Carleton almost scored a wonder goal just before the half, curling a corner kick that beat the goalkeeper and was creeping inside the far post. But a tense, even first half would come to a close with a 0-0 deadlocked scoreline.
The second half started with pressure from FC Dallas, but the Atlanta center back pairing of Edwards and Crain each made crucial tackles in their own box to keep the score level. And just after the hour mark, the club's first-ever Homegrown signing Andrew Carleton took over. First in the 64th minute, Atlanta United won a free kick just outside the box and the Georgia native curled an unstoppable free kick over the wall and inside the post.
Then in the 67th, Carleton outdid his own finish with a goal worthy of any title. A free kick from deep was headed on by second-half substitute Jackson Conway. Carleton chested the ball past his defender and crushed a volley perfectly off the bounce, arcing it past the helpless FC Dallas goalkeeper and into the top corner.
Back-to-back champion FC Dallas wasn't going to go down easily, and pushed hard in the final fifteen minutes for an equalizer with their tournament lives on the line. Atlanta held on resiliently as the clocked ticked down, but FC Dallas would get one back in stoppage time from a free kick to make it a nervous final few minutes. FC Dallas kept pressing in the final moments, with Sai Brown coming up huge to tip a shot over the bar to preserve the lead with just seconds remaining. But that would be all Atlanta would need, with the ref blowing the final whistle on a historic season for the club.
That win brought Atlanta United’s U-15/16 team to to a final record of 24-4-8 on the season. Add to that a USSDA Championship, a Player of the Year Award, a Goal of the Year Award and a second player signed to the senior team, the team's first year will go down as a remarkable success, as well as the first official trophy in Atlanta United history.