With player development increasingly important in Major League Soccer, expansion team Atlanta United announced their new academy will begin play in 2016, a year before the senior team take the field for the first time.
Atlanta United will enter the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for the 2016-17 season, establishing teams at all age levels within the USSDA.
Although Orlando City had an academy prior to their entry in MLS this season, they already had an established club structure in USL PRO, and the move by Atlanta United to set up their academy before the first team plays is innovative for a new club.
“We’re bringing in everybody earlier than we have to based on the MLS timetable because you want to get them comfortable with the market, and understanding what’s going on here,” Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank told SBIsoccer.com on Monday. “Listening to everybody and getting a good sense of the soccer fabric in Atlanta.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do to make sure [the academy is] first-class and world-class,” he continued. “We’re equally excited about the youth part of this as we are excited about playing professionally.”
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As part of the arrangement to bring Atlanta United into the Development Academy, another local program, Georgia United, will move out of the U-16 and U-18 age groups in order to make room for the new MLS side. At the same time, Atlanta United will work with Georgia United in using the latter's program as a model for the new program.
The Atlanta United academy will train at the same facility as the senior team, upon its completion ahead of the 2017 MLS season. An article on U.S. Soccer's website on Monday said the thinking behind housing the academy at the same location as the first team is to provide "an aspirational environment" for young players.