That “try” turned into a legacy — and Annan doesn’t like the word — of ideas, sweat, conversations and desire that helped turn Georgia into one of better youth soccer areas in the United States.
Now, Annan finally is leaving the state after years of leading youth soccer organizations and his most recent job as Atlanta United’s academy director and interim manager of Atlanta United 2 to try to turn South Carolina’s men’s soccer program into a national power.
Annan said South Carolina pursued him. The more he thought about the university’s commitment to soccer with its facilities and support, the more intrigued he became. He said he’s not sure that it aligns with his career goal of managing a first team in a professional soccer league, but it allows him to “stay on the grass and stay connected to a team.” Annan said he didn’t think there was a pathway to reach a first team at Atlanta United. Annan said he is leaving Atlanta United on good terms.
“I didn’t think leaving would be this hard,” he said. “It’s been emotional. It’s very difficult to close the chapter. But that’s life. You have to be able to close doors and open new ones.”
Annan’s coaching career started when he began to work on his coaching licenses. He was working on his “C” license in the late 1990s. The class was taught by Jacob Daniel and was being conducted at Emory.
A talented player, Annan thought he knew what he needed to know about soccer.
Annan was taught otherwise.
“He came to me at the end of the course,” Daniel said. “He said, ‘I was pretty cocky, thinking I knew everything.’ After this course I realize how much more I need to learn.”
Atlanta United holds final tryout at LakePoint Park in Emerson over two days in 2016 to field five teams in five age groups. Academy director Tony Annan coached the U-16 squad to a national title. (Kyle Hess/Atlanta United)
Annan never stopped learning, teaching and trying to enrich the lives of players. He said that is part of his desire to keep challenging himself. Annan was director of coaching at Concorde Fire from 1998-2005. He became executive director of the United Futbol Academy from 2005-16 and technical director of the Georgia United States Developmental Academy from 2010-16. Daniel, who recently retired as Georgia Soccer director of coaching, said the DA brought the best players together on a scale unique within the state. Having the best play the best leads to more development, he said, and is a credit to Annan.
Annan also served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Paralympic team. He served as an assistant coach with the Silverbacks, and as with the “C” license, he absorbed every experience.
Annan was hired by Atlanta United in 2016 and within a few months was promoted to academy director. It was a natural fit.
He became one of the few youth coaches within MLS to earn the Elite Formation Coaching License, a 52-week labor intensive French course introduced in North America when the French Football Federation and MLS formed a partnership to advance youth player development in the United States and Canada.
Annan led the U15-16 Academy team to a national championship in the 2016-17 United States Soccer Development Academy tournament. It was the club’s first trophy and what Annan described as one of three moments he’s most proud of from his time in Georgia. The other two are Atlanta United’s first game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, which he said brought tears to his eyes as he thought about the growth of the sport in the city, and the MLS Cup in 2018.
The youth players that Annan influenced can be measured in a few ways: More than 12 players became professionals, including seven MLS Homegrown players. The list includes George Campbell and George Bello. More than 30 players have received scholarships to NCAA Division I schools. Some, such as Machop Chol and Bryce Washington, returned and signed professional contracts.
“Coach Tony was a great coach and an even better person,” Bello said. “He’s a coach that brings the best out of you and keeps you motivated and grounded. Wherever he is, he brings that winning mentality that every team needs. He’s had a big impact on my career so far, and I’ll always be thankful for everything he’s done for me and taught me.”
Those are only the players from Atlanta United’s academy. The list of those influenced by Annan since he started coaching in Atlanta is too long to list.
“Tony really helped me through these past six years, ever since I moved to Atlanta,” Campbell said. “I’m extremely grateful to have had a coach who pushed me at every training session and every game. Despite how harsh he could be, he always got the best out of me. It’s clear that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him.”
Whatever the player’s potential, Annan taught them with as much effort and focus as those who had a longer future within the sport.
“I hope I’ve affected a lot of young men in a positive way,” Annan said. “They’ll reflect on those times when they’re adults to help their kids become good people, too.”