Atlanta United signs first homegrown player

Andrew Carleton is a midfielder/forward who has played for the U.S. U15 and 17 national teams. He is Atlanta United’s first Homegrown Player. (Charleston Battery)
Andrew Carleton is a midfielder/forward who has played for the U.S. U15 and 17 national teams. He is Atlanta United’s first Homegrown Player. (Charleston Battery)

Atlanta United announced the signing of Andrew Carleton as its first Homegrown Player on Thursday, paving a way for him to possibly play for the first team as early as the MLS expansion team’s inaugural 2017 season.

Carleton is a 15-year-old midfielder/forward from Powder Springs. He played for Georgia United and recently accepted an invitation to join Atlanta United's under-18 academy team. He is currently in residence with the U.S. U17 national team, competing for a roster spot ahead of the World Cup.

“This is a great day for me and for my family,” Carleton said through the club. “Having grown up playing soccer in Georgia, being able to play for my hometown team is a dream come true and I’m very excited to begin my professional career with Atlanta United. I can’t wait to get started.”

In another example of soccer’s global marketplace, Atlanta United had to fend off teams from Europe who were also interested in signing Carleton.

“It’s a special day for us being able to sign the first Homegrown Player,” Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “He’s an exceptional young talent who has been tugged in a lot of different directions. We are fortunate that he was born here in Atlanta and wants to play for his hometown club.”

Bocanegra said they identified Carleton as a special talent when Atlanta United began working with Georgia United’s U16 and U18 squads six months ago. Discussions started soon thereafter with Carleton and his parents about him joining the team.

Carleton signed his contract on Wednesday at The Varsity. The terms won’t begin until next year. He will become the team’s fourth signing, joining goalkeeper Alex Tambakis, who is on loan at Charleston in the USL, striker Jeffrey Otoo, who will go on loan at Charleston in the USL, and midfielder Junior Burgos, who is on loan at Tampa Bay in the NASL.

Carleton will join Atlanta United’s team when it holds its first preseason camp in January. Until then, after the U17 residency is complete, Carleton will split time working on a development plan drawn up by Atlanta United, will train with Charleston and will train with the Atlanta United academy.

Bocanegra said it's very important that the team not force Carleton into the first team too quickly. Though he won't turn 16 until June 22 it's obvious he has talent. He was recently called into the U.S. men's U18 team for the Mercedes-Benz Aegean Cup, where he scored two goals in four games. He scored seven goals for the U15 national team in a tournament in Italy in 2015. Bocanegra said Carleton usually draws attention from clubs when he's playing in overseas tournaments.

“He has a little way to go but he’s a great talent,” Bocanegra said.

Signing Carleton as a Homegrown Player removes him from the SuperDraft. A club may sign as many Homegrown Players as it wants each year, as long as the players have been in the team's academy for at least one year and satisfied other rules. Bocanegra anticipates Atlanta United signing more Homegrown Players, but said the club will exercise due diligence with each player.

“We want to make sure they are ready and we are ready as well to have them be a part of the first team,” Bocanegra said.

The team's headquarters are under construction in Marietta. The headquarters will house the front office, coaching staff, first team and academy.

President Darren Eales and Bocanegra have said that they want the academy to become the factory line to the first team. Doing so likely requires the team signing those academy players to homegrown contracts.

“It’s all part of the plan,” Bocanegra said. “Hopefully there will be many more Andrews to come behind him.”

Examples of Homegrown Players include Seattle’s Jordan Morris and former Sounder DeAndre Yedlin.

FC Dallas has become the example – one Eales has used – of a club that is using its academy and homegrown players to fill its needs on the first team. Homegrown-turned-first teamers include midfielder Kellyn Acosta, forward/midfielder Coy Craft, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, defender Aaron Guillen, defender Moises Hernandez, midfielder Victor Ulloa and midfielder Alex Zendejas.