Atlanta United announced they would be starting a United Soccer League club on Tuesday. The unnamed club will start to play in 2018 and play its home games at Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves.
The United Soccer League – or USL – is a second division league in the United States soccer pyramid. USL features teams from coast to coast and plays their schedule at the same time as MLS. Almost all MLS teams have a USL affiliate, either through direct ownership or partnership with an individual club. Atlanta spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons in one of those partnerships with the Charleston Battery.
Details are scarce so far for the Atlanta USL team, but with 2018 so close news should begin to roll out quickly. Atlanta has announced that they will hold tryouts on December 16th for anyone interested. The unnamed USL team will train alongside Atlanta United at their Marietta practice facility.
While the Charleston partnership was instrumental in getting some Atlanta United players time on the field, Charleston is its own organization and rightfully prioritizes titles over being a farm team for an MLS club. With the activation of a USL team under the United umbrella, youth players that might not see time with Atlanta United will have a place to play where their development can be a priority.
Atlanta United President Darren Eales is excited to continue the growth of the club.
“Establishing a top-level Academy was the first priority for our club and while our staff has done a marvelous job in identifying and developing young players, the next step has always been to create the pathway for the 18-to-19-year-old player who needs to continue his development before competing for a starting position at the MLS level,” said Eales. “We’ll now have the capability to develop players in our system from the time they’re 12 years-old until the minute they reach the First Team.”
Fans shouldn’t expect Atlanta’s USL team to dwell in the basement of USL while it grows players but the growth of draft picks like Miles Robinson and homegrown players like Lagos Kunga, Patrick Okonkwo and George Bello will be vital as they improve and fight for time on the field. Even popular names like Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin could see substantial minutes in Gwinnett in 2018.
These names appearing in USL and not MLS isn’t a sign of failure on anyone’s part, but a part of the growing process. Atlanta United has a stable of young players that need minutes to get better and they might not be able to find those minutes with the first team.
Beyond the kids that have already been announced there will always be more young players in the Atlanta United academy and some of them will need a place to play. Some will be homegrown signings who need to sharpen up, others might end their time in the academy and decide that college isn’t the path they want to take, and they’ll chase the professional dream as soon as possible. Atlanta’s USL club can give them that opportunity. Ultimately, a USL team isn’t about giving the names we know a place to grow, it is about giving the names we will know in the future a place to grow.
Another wrinkle to Atlanta’s announcement is how a USL team could impact their plans in Argentina.
As previously discussed, Atlanta has started working deals with youth players at Argentine clubs, and a USL club could give some of these kids a chance to play immediately in the United States and give Atlanta a place to put them as opposed to potentially losing investment on players such as Lucas Rodriguez. That’s not to say that you should expect to see Rodriguez in USL should the move come to pass – he’s ready for MLS today – but it is always nice to have a place to put players that you want to develop and not have to burn a roster spot on your MLS team to do so.
There are many ways to fill out the USL roster when the time comes, but it will surely be filled with the names of tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, the process will surely repeat.