ATLANTA – “It’s not like we need to blow this thing up.”
Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said this at his end-of-season press conference earlier this week, and he’s right. In their inaugural season, the Five Stripes were second in the league in goals scored (70) and goal differential (+30), right behind Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC.
But for all the praise rightfully directed at Tata Martino’s Atlanta United after their first season, one criticism is their lack of depth.
“We were very excited this year with how we were able to perform as a first-year team,” Bocanegra said. “You look at a team like Toronto where they’ve been able, over the course of eight or nine years, to build a team that has depth. When someone comes out of the midfield, they put in another guy and it’s just the same. The level doesn’t drop. That’s always a challenge for a first-year team.”
While contract decisions on loanees Yamil Asad, Greg Garza and Anton Walkes hang in the balance, there’s a clear sense that the club are hoping some depth will be provided from the academy. Effective on Jan. 1, the team will have five Homegrown players on the first-team roster: Left back George Bello, winger/midfielder Andrew Carleton, midfielder Chris Goslin and forwards Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo.
Atlanta United has been adamant since Day 1 that developing a world-class academy is a clear priority. Symbolically, the academy existed a year before the first-team even played a match. Fans can anticipate more academy integration into the first-team in the club’s second year in MLS.
“Those guys will be pushing through and have another year of experience under their belt,” Bocanegra said. “It’s really trying to get depth. It’s trying to create competitions at a few positions to try and get more depth all over the field.”
And the club send clear signals that they trust and treat these teenagers like seasoned professionals. Carleton and Goslin both took part in media activities this week, alongside players like Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Michael Parkhurst, wearing the same gear and speaking with real composure.
The Homegrowns are in an environment that encourages them and is set up for them to succeed. When asked what advice they’d give to their three new Homegrown signings, Carleton and Goslin had the same message for them.
“I’d tell them to go in and not be afraid to make mistakes and to be confident in their ability,” Carleton said. “They signed a professional contract for a reason and they have talent, so I’d say to go out there and use their God-given talent and not be afraid to make a mistake.”
“Same thing, just to be confident,” Goslin said. “I feel that’s the hardest thing coming in to a professional environment, just being yourself with what got you to this stage is what’s going to get you through.”