A historic and milestone weekend is in sight for Atlanta United as the club’s USL side ATL UTD 2 officially kicks off its inaugural season at Coolray Field in Gwinnett County. As they face off against New York Red Bulls II Saturday in their first-ever match, make sure you’re there to witness the action by securing your seat here.
It’s an exciting moment to have a branch of the club hold a presence in the second tier of U.S. Soccer, but what exactly is the impact for Atlanta United?
“ATL UTD 2 is the fundamental link in our club’s vertical integration, connecting our Academy teams to our First Team,” Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said. “This team gives us a chance to challenge academy players at the professional level while also giving our First Team players an opportunity to stay match fit and when returning from injury. This team will be a blend of local talent and seasoned pros.”
ATL UTD 2 is led by Head Coach Scott Donnelly. Coaching in the U.S. Soccer system since 2011, including stints with the U-17 and U-18 Men’s National team, Donnelly understands the importance of player development. He emphasizes that it is the main goal of their inaugural season to develop each and every individual that comes through the team.
“Success is improving our players,” Donnelly said. "Whether it’s our top Homegrown prospects that have come all the way through the club or the guys with more pro experience under their belt, it’s improving those players, adding something to their game, aiding in their maturation, giving them valuable game minutes as a professional, and getting them closer to being able to help the first team. That’s in essence what it is, helping the club as the in-between stage between the academy and the first team. And being a part of the pyramid, being a support for all the club’s goals at large.”
As players cycle through the USL squad, Donnelly will be working very closely with Atlanta United’s First Team Head Coach Tata Martino as well as Academy Director Tony Annan to ultimately breed a successful club. ATL UTD 2 is at the heart of it, bridging the gap from youth to pro.
“It will serve us well to have a place where young players can play consistently, especially those who are working hard in training but aren’t seeing many minutes on the field during matches with the First Team,” Martino said. “ATL UTD 2 will give them an opportunity to compete at a high level, continue to grow as players and use USL matches as a means to fight for positions in the First Team.”
With all Atlanta United teams and staff based out of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground in Marietta, it provides a centralized location for all the components to work tightly together and continue to progress as one unit.
“Our philosophy is that the first team training and playing style will be pushed down to the USL team and down to all the academy teams,” Bocanegra said. “For an academy player to step up to the USL team, he’ll be familiar with how training works, the style of play and philosophy when they take that next step to the first team. Hopefully it will help integrate these guys into the first team and not feel out of place. Tata made the first team scrimmage against the academy last year, so USL will be a part of that this year. Also if there are players who are doing really well in the USL and they earn a call-up or a chance to the first team, they’ll be brought up to train with them.”
It’s been a much-anticipated day for the club and its fans, and it has finally arrived. ATL UTD 2 makes its official debut this weekend, so make sure you’re there when history meets the proving ground. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST. at Coolray field and tickets are still available here.