In June of 2016 Andrew Carleton inked his Homegrown contract with Atlanta United at just 15 years of age. Now, with nearly two years spent in the professional ranks, he’s maturing exponentially both on and off the pitch.
“Being around guys like Parky [Michael Parkhurst], [Jeff] Larentowicz, Leandro [Pirez], guys like that who have been there and done that. Just picking up little things they do to take care of their body. On the field, just little things. Talking more, helping other guys out that will help you out as well, if they’re in the right spot, you may not have to run as much to cover up for that. Or whatever the situation is, combining with guys and building some chemistry with the guys on the team. That’s probably the main thing I took from my first year.”
As Carleton learns from the vets, he’s also looking to pass on that knowledge to whomever he can. He may only be 17 years old, but the boy from Powder Springs, Georgia is no longer the youngest player on the ATL UTD squad.
“I’m no veteran, but I’ve been around for a year or two between Atlanta and the Charleston Battery, so I’ve picked up a few things. Anything I can do to help the other guys is great because when I was in that spot, I would look to guys to kind of help me through it and give me pointers here or there. So, any little thing that I can learn to pass on to younger guys like George Bello, who just turned 16, is something I really look forward to passing on.”
“When I was 15 or 16 I was more individual, not selfish, but my strength was taking people on…So I think as I grow up, the maturity to be able to combine with people to get past defenders, then whenever the situation is right in the final third, that’s when you take more touches to take people on. I think that’s probably one of my bigger strengths. Then my ability to play multiple positions helps as well. I used to just play winger mostly, but now to be able to play more as a ten or a false nine like in the World Cup or wherever needed, I think that helps as well.”
Since inking his first contract, Carleton has evolved into a more versatile player, training day in and day out in a professional environment against elite competition. He says it’s certainly helped him elevate his game on both sides of the ball.
“When you’re going against guys like Almirón every day, it definitely helps your defense. I think a lot of it is getting used to playing the position and making sure you’re in the right spot in the right situation. Individual defending you kind of do all over the field all the time, but being able to put yourself in the right spot is the first step.”
While his hard work saw him earn his Atlanta United debut last season, his time with the first team was limited due to large chucks of 2017 spent with the U-17 Men’s National Team in qualifying, preparing and competing in the FIFA World Cup.
“Last year was a little difficult, but playing with the national team is one of the biggest honors, so I have zero complaints about that.”
His role with the national team differs from that in Atlanta, and it’s just another way Carleton is developing into a more dynamic, well-rounded professional player.
“It was a pretty different situation with both teams, but I think I took away the little things I learned last year with the team and tried to move them over to the national team and teach some of the younger guys over there. Just the little leadership things you can learn from guys like Parky and to try to be one of those guys on the national team. So, it was a cool experience to do both.”
While he’ll still be involved in the U.S. Soccer system, Atlanta United’s first Homegrown is shifting his focus towards his job in the ATL.
“Hopefully this year I can get a little more playing time. It depends on what you do with that playing time what happens from there.”
With the club’s recently announced USL side, Atlanta United 2, launching this year, it’s likely Carleton will be heavily involved in their season. But for now, he’s focused on working hard and continuing to develop as a player. Whether he gets more minutes in MLS or USL, he knows it’s not ultimately up to him.
“I’m happy with the journey wherever it takes me. It’s not really my decision where I go, that’s more of Tata [Martino] and Carlos [Bocanegra] decision. Whatever they choose, I know they have my best interests in mind and the team as well. So, wherever I end up, whatever the situation is I’m just going to do the best I can with what’s thrown at me.”
When asked his preference of role in the club, position on the field, or playing time in 2018, Carleton had one answer:
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m on the field.”