What are odds Carleton and Goslin play for Atlanta United? Not bad

Atlanta United will begin play in MLS in 2017.

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Atlanta United will begin play in MLS in 2017.

Should Andrew Carleton or Chris Goslin eventually play for Atlanta United’s senior team, it will continue a blossoming trend in Major League Soccer of Homegrown Players, those signed as teenagers from academies, becoming contributing squad members.

In the past five seasons, research provided by the league shows that the number of Homegrown Players who are receiving minutes has doubled from 40 in 2011 to 80 in 2015. The total of regular season minutes has increased from 12,294 in 2011 to more than 54,000 last season, with the average minutes played doubling from 307 to 679.

There are 82 active homegrown players in the league as of Oct. 11, 2016, according to the league. There are more than 70 inactive because of retirements, injuries, moves to other leagues, etc.

Atlanta United President Darren Eales, technical director Carlos Bocanegra and manager Gerardo Martino want their players to contribute to that total. The trio, along with academy leaders Richard Money and Tony Annan, are banking being able to dip into the academy pool to continually replenish the first team.

“Biggest thing for us and biggest excitement is seeing those players hopefully develop into (the) first team and start to be players that the fans can identity that have come from the area,” Eales said recently during an U-18 academy game.

The team’s $60 million headquarters, under construction in Marietta, will house the senior team next to the academy teams because Eales wants the younger players to be exposed to the work habits of the professionals.

Atlanta United was the league’s first team to start its academy before its senior team. It announced the singings of Carleton, who is 16 years old, and Goslin, also 16, before even one-third of the senior roster has been finalized ahead of the inaugural 2017 season.

The increase in the minutes given to Homegrown Players reflects a dedication to developing the academies, according to Fred Lipka, who the league’s Technical Director, Player Youth & Development, Player Personnel.

“I have seen a switch in terms of quality of play within our academies,” he recently told MLSSoccer.com. “Today, when I observe the competition aspect, I see a very interesting switch in terms of quality of the games.

“Our coaches right now … improve their staffs as well. It’s kind of a contagious process. I can see, more and more, our coaches not only focused on the result, but focused on the quality of the game. That means what? They are very focused on the way of teaching, they are very focused on the tactical aspects, they are very focused on how to transfer their knowledge of the game to their players.”

Lipka is formerly the director of the Paris Racing Academy and Le Havre Athletic Club. He previously served as a liaison in a partnership between MLS and the French Football Federation to help coaches in the U.S. obtain and Eltie Formation Coaching License. Annan has passed the 16-month course.

Lipka’s experiences in Europe have helped him frame the challenges soccer in the U.S. and MLS face in developing talent. The path for players such as Carleton and Goslin from the academy to the first team isn’t as clear, and something Lipka said needs to less opaque.

Carleton has played for several teams this summer: the U.S. under-16 national team, the under-16 Atlanta United academy team, a U17 Atlanta United team and Charleston Battery, among others. It seems like a lot for a player who didn’t turn 16 until earlier this season.

Carleton said earlier this summer that he thinks the experiences and exposure to different levels of competition and coaching will benefit him long term.

Long term is what Atlanta United is thinking about.

When Carleton’s signing was announced, Bocanegra said that he will be given every oppportunity to make the first team in the inaugural training camp, but he won’t be forced into the team. They want to make sure that his development is natural so that he has longevity.

Patience is something that can be hard to have, particularly when teams around the world are competing for talent.

“{Youth development is an iceberg,” Lipka said. “We can see [FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal], we can see [Atlanta United FC’s Andrew Carleton], all these kids who are signing at 16 or 17. But to prepare for that is a lot of work, lot of dedication and it’s a big organization. It’s not only two or three players that we want to sign. If we want to sign players like this regularly … we have to make this elite pathway clear, improve it and be more efficient.”

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