After seven months of action between 32 local youth teams, the inaugural Unite Youth Cup tournament ended this past weekend with Atlanta United and NTH NASA facing off in the finals of all three age groups – U-14, U-15 and U-17 – at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. Atlanta United was able to claim victory in all three matches, becoming the first champion of the Unite Youth Cup.
Sanctioned by the Georgia State Soccer Association, the Unite Youth Cup, which was announced and began play in October 2020, was a first-of-its-kind youth tournament that included 13 clubs across Georgia from MLS NEXT, Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and the United States Youth Soccer (USYS) National League platforms. Participating clubs were: NTH NASA, Inter Atlanta, Atlanta Fire United, Lanier Soccer Association, North Georgia Soccer Academy, Concorde Fire, Kalonji Soccer Academy, Southern Soccer Academy, United Futbol Academy, Atlanta City FC, MOBA Soccer Academy, AFC Lightning and Atlanta United.
The tournament resembled a Champions League format, beginning with Group Stage matches coinciding with each club’s regular season. The U-14 tournament consisted of 12 teams split into two groups, while the U-15 and U-17 tournaments each consisted of 10 teams split into two groups. The top two teams from each group at all levels advanced to the semifinals.
Here’s how the group stage played out:
NTH NASA and Atlanta United earned the top two spots in U-14 Group 1 with 13 points from a 4-1-0 (W-D-L) record each. Narrowly missing out on a top-two finish was Lanier Soccer Association, which finished with 10 points after putting together a 3-1-1 record and only allowing three goals in its five group stage matches. United Futbol Academy and Southern Soccer Academy advanced out of the U-14’s Group 2 with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
In U-15 Group 1 NTH NASA again topped the group with a perfect 12 points after it went 4-0-0. Atlanta United finished second on nine points and the best goal differential in the group of +14. AFC Lightning and Concorde advanced out of a tight U-15 Group 2 with nine and eight points, respectively, edging out a strong United Futbol Academy side who went 2-1-1 with seven points.
NTH NASA and Atlanta United also finished one-two in U-17 Group 1 while United Futbol Academy and Kalonji Soccer Academy took the top spots in Group 2.
For the semifinals draw, the top seed from Group 1 played the second seed from Group 2, while the second seed from Group 1 played the first seed from Group 2. The winner of each match advanced to the finals. All semifinal and final matches were played at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground.
NTH NASA (2 v. 0) Southern Soccer Academy
United Futbol Academy (2 v. 2) ATL UTD*
*ATL UTD win 4-3 on penalties
NTH NASA (2 v. 0) Concorde Fire
AFC Lightning (4 v. 8) ATL UTD
NTH NASA (2 v. 1) Kalonji Soccer Academy
United Futbol Academy (1 v. 6) ATL UTD
In the U-14 semifinals, NTH NASA defeated Southern Soccer Academy 2-0. Atlanta United and United Futbol Academy finished 2-2 and advanced to a dramatic penalty shootout, where Atlanta United went on to win 4-3.
NTH NASA again won 2-0 in the U-15 semis, this time beating Concorde Fire, while Atlanta United topped AFC lightning in a goal-filled match that finished 8-4.
Atlanta advanced to the U-17 finals after winning 6-1 over United Futbol Academy, and NASA edged out Kalonji Soccer Academy 2-1 in a tightly contested match.
This setup an all-ATL UTD vs. NTH NASA finals. Atlanta United had a strong showing in each match, scoring a collective 16 goals.
ATL UTD (3 v. 1) NTH NASA
ATL UTD (6 v. 0) NTH NASA
ATL UTD (7 v. 1) NTH NASA
The Unite Youth Cup successfully brought together 13 Georgia clubs from different platforms to compete with one another at the highest level at each age group. With the guiding principle of ensuring all clubs throughout the state had an opportunity to play each other regardless of their platform, the inaugural Unite Youth Cup showcased a strong competition and effective format that allowed clubs to enhance their quality of opponents seamlessly over the course of a regular season.
With the first iteration of the tournament in the books, Atlanta United’s Academy looks forward to welcoming clubs back to the Unite Youth Cup in 2021 while finding new ways to improve the competition and support local clubs.