In case you missed it – and given the state of the sport both in Atlanta and nation-wide I wouldn’t blame you if you did – Atlanta revealed the name of their USL club. ATL UTD 2 has already caused plenty of takes. Some hot, some cold, some apathetic.
But this is not about the name or the logo (which I like) or anything other than the players.
Atlanta will use their USL club as a way to give their homegrown players and other youngsters minutes. More importantly, there is the potential to give them consistent high-leverage minutes as opposed to working them into a rotation inconsistently or bringing them on to ice a game occasionally in MLS.
Let us take a look at some of the more high-profile kids and what we might expect from them in 2018.
We can start with the last three homegrown signings that were announced and presented to a packed Bobby Dodd Stadium during the season: Patrick Okonkwo, George Bello and Lagos Kunga.
Okonkwo is a big, athletic forward with big numbers in his history. He put away 26 goals in 29 games in his last year with the academy and spent a bit of time with Charleston before this year. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of him up top in Gwinnett in 2018 though, with the quality that Atlanta already possesses at striker, Okonkwo will need to take big steps forward to see time outside of perhaps the U.S. Open Cup. That said, with more playing time I do not think we will see Things Fall Apart for him in Gwinnett.
Bello is the youngest of the bunch we are going to go over at only 15 years old, but any reasonable amount of hype is acceptable for him. An electric left back, Bello could be the man asked to follow Greg Garza for The Five Stripes, but we are still a few years away from that. For now, Bello will benefit from playing against adults and getting stronger when he sees big minutes. Don’t expect an appearance in Mercedes-Benz stadium in 2018, but 2019 is not an insane idea.
Lagos Kunga famously dropped the “A” on everyone when he scored as an 18-year-old in the U-20 World Cup last year. Kunga is a dangerous winger who might be in a similar boat to Andrew Carleton (settle down, we will get there) in that he might see time on either wing with perhaps some looks in the midfield. Kunga has already made an appearance for the senior club during the 2017 USOC and could very likely do so in 2018. He may run into the same problem Okonkwo does with so much talent in Atlanta on the wings but big performances in Gwinnett could position him for bigger chances in 2019. For what it is worth, if I’m picking one of these three to see in Atlanta in 2018, it is Kunga.
Now we can move to the bigger names that will still see time in 2018 starting with Chris Goslin. For all the hype and internet-breaking Carleton did at the U-17 World Cup in 2017, Goslin drew his own rave reviews especially in their dismantling of Paraguay when he basically put a padlock on the field in front of the back line. Goslin will get chances to prove himself in Gwinnett as a defensive midfielder and we will see how and where exactly he settles into that midfield. There is no guarantee that it happens this year, but there will be a time when Goslin will get a chance to be an impact player for Atlanta. For now, he will get a chance to be a difference maker in the USL and he will need to show strong performances and improvement throughout the season. If he does that, his timeline may very well move up.
Last on our list is Andrew Carleton. Carleton is the only one so far to log minutes in an MLS match and that is not outside the realm of possibility for 2018 at all. That being said, he will surely be given the chance to play a major role in Gwinnett this season. One big question that remains to be answered is where. Carleton has seen plenty of time on the left side of the field and even inverted on the right. That being said his potential will probably lead to chances to play in the middle as a playmaker. While there are some questions for younger players like Bello when it comes to tangling with pro players, Carleton has already spent time with the Battery a few years ago and is physically ready. He will be expected to be a focal point in an exciting attack and great performances and leadership could force The Five Stripes’ hand before the end of the season. If it does not, however, and Carleton stays in Gwinnett to log his minutes, it does not mean his – or any of these player’s – season was a failure.
It should be mentioned as well that Carleton and Goslin both saw chances to make the first team in 2017 cut down due to their commitments to the U-17 National Team. With a free year, growth will be expected. If you thought last year was fun, just wait until you get a load of these guys trying things for 90 minutes at a time.