Atlanta United FC fans got an early taste of what their 2017 MLS debut might be like on Saturday, as more than 1,000 of the expansion team's supporters flocked to the club's first home match at any level, an Under-17/18 academy match at the Pace Academy's Riverview Sports Complex in Mableton, Georgia.
ATL UTD are competing at the youth level months before their senior side takes the field, thanks to an unprecedented partnership with local youth outfit Georgia United that saw the MLS team take over most of the latter's slots in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
Coining the slogan #PackPace, Atlanta United made their first home game of the 2016/17 DA season a major event, urging fans to support the youth teams that could produce future Homegrown talent for their club.
Boosted by that fervent support, ATL UTD striker Patrick Okonkwo bagged a hat trick to spark an emphatic 5-1 win for the home side over Florida club Chargers SC. Edwin Figueroa and Cheik Fofana also scored for Atlanta's U-17/18s, and many of the home fans also stuck around for the U-15/16 side's match, a 3-0 victory over Chargers.
With the day's wins, both of United's top two academy teams are off to a 3-0 start in the new season.
Despite starting from scratch as an expansion team, Atlanta have taken an aggressive approach on the youth front, linking up with Georgia United and signing US youth international Andrew Carleton as a Homegrown Player months before they begin MLS play in March.