Standing on the touchline near midfield, Ajani Fortune experienced one of the longest waits of his young life.
Fortune was waiting to make his MLS debut near the end of Atlanta United’s 3-0 road win Saturday against Charlotte. But it was a race against the clock.
There were only a few seconds left in the game. The ball needed to go out of play. Finally, it did, and Fortune went in for Luiz Araujo.
Though Fortune, 20, didn’t get to touch the ball, he achieved a dream.
“I was just happy to see my number go up and be able to go in, and it was a great moment,” he said. “And thank the coaching staff, players and everybody around me who’s helped me get here so far.”
Fortune joined Atlanta United’s academy in 2018. It was there that he realized that if he “locked in” every day he could become a pro. He signed a Homegrown contract in July 2022 that went into effect Jan. 1. Fortune, a midfielder, made 59 appearances for Atlanta United 2 in the USL the past three seasons.
Fortune was a leader on Atlanta United 2, serving as captain last season. Now he’s surrounded by more experienced players. So, he’s watching, listening and learning. Some of those things include seeing unexpected passes and other details that can make him better. “Keep learning” is the best piece of advice he said he’s received.
“So that if an opportunity comes later on down the road where I’m put in that same position, I’m ready for it,” he said.
Centerback JuanJo Purata said Fortune trains very well and has a brilliant future.
Fortune said the longish wait to go in against Charlotte allowed him to gather his thoughts and listen to instructions from assistant coach Diego de la Torre.
Fortune was going to take a free kick so that he could get one touch in the game, but he said Brooks Lennon took it instead.
“This is one of the goals I had when I first joined the academy was to be able to play with the first team in this type of environment,” he said. “And I’m just glad that it’s paid off a little bit.”
Fortune said the next step is to earn more minutes.
That may be difficult. Santiago Sosa is back from suspension. Franco Ibarra is playing well. Amar Sejdic started at central midfield against Charlotte and helped the team score its first goal.
“It all starts with training,” Fortune said. “Just try and come back and train, and for me, do the best I can to get that day out of my head, focus on the next one to try and train the best I can to give myself a chance of, at first, making the roster and then from there, coming on and see what else can come from there.”
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.
March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1
April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox
May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA
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Credit: Doug Roberson/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution