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  • Writer's pictureSoccer Down Here

From Field Five to the Starting Eleven: Ashton Gordon Thriving as a First Year Pro

Many fans might know the name Ashton Gordon from his outstanding performances in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for Atlanta United this year, but he has been developing into an exciting attacker for the Five Stripes for a while now. 

Gordon joined Atlanta United’s Academy in January 2019, and was signed to Atlanta United 2 for the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season on January 29, 2024. Gordon will become a Atlanta United First Team player on Jan. 1, 2025 on a contract through 2026 with options for 2027 and 2028. 

“The speed of play of the game has changed a lot because grown men are bigger, stronger, faster. You're not necessarily a kid anymore. Like, people get paid to do this, and they put food on the table for their family, so it's more serious,” said Gordon on the biggest differences from the academy to professional. “It's not just fun and games anymore, so you have to treat it as they treat it. You have to come and match the same intensity that they have.”

The transition from the academy to the professional game has its challenges, but Gordon complemented the team as they helped him with this adjustment to the professional side of the game. 

“It was a challenge at first, but we have a good group of guys and they make it easy for you like when you're a kid, they all try to help you,” said Gordon. “Everybody tries to help you up. If you mess up, it's not necessarily whatever, but they’ll tell you what’s wrong and will help you fix it instead of just not saying anything at all.”

Gordon was the youngest player on the roster during preseason, but the team treated him like he had been there all along. 

“Everybody is like a family. Even during preseason when I was the only kid, I didn't feel left out,” said Gordon. “They always included me in stuff, so it’s like a big family.” 

The Decatur native has been very active with the Five Stripes since he has been signed. Many fans saw Gordon in action for the first time when he played for Atlanta in preseason. 

“They [first team players] helped a lot because stuff that normally takes you 10 years to learn, they will tell you on the spot, so it helped,” said Gordon when asked about what he learned from playing with the first team in preseason. “They helped me mature off the field like sometimes, I'm a kid and I want to do kid stuff. They're like no, you can't do that. You have to take ice baths because sometimes I don't like doing it, but they make me do it. It just helps you mature as a person.”

Gordon has been a key attacker with Atlanta United 2 this season, has scored crucial goals for the U17's and has started in both of the U.S. Open Cup matches for the first team. Atlanta United played Charlotte Independence back on May 7 where they won 3-0, and this match was his first official appearance with the first team. 

“I found out at practice like the day before. I was tying my shoe and Gonzalo (Pineda) comes up to me and asks, do you want to start tomorrow? I said yeah, and he said okay, you're starting. Then my heart dropped because I didn't expect it,” said Gordon. “I come in the next day and my heart's beating through my chest, but when the whistle blows like you forget everything. It's just like playing another game. It's different playing with fans like you have more energy because you want to run for the people that are coming to pay to watch you play.”

On Tuesday, May 21, Atlanta United made the trip to Charleston to face off against Charleston Battery where Gordon made another appearance with the Five Stripes, but he had no idea he would be in the starting lineup for that match. 

“I wasn’t supposed to start and then, in the team meeting, I see my name starting at 10. Nobody said anything to me, and then I’m stressing on the bus cause I have never played 10 a day in my life,” said Gordon. “The first time in my life playing 10, and then Gonzalo explained everything to me and made my role simple, so it was easy to play. Then Dax helped me, and it was easy. They told me that was one of the best games they had seen me play, so it was good for me.” 

While Gordon has had great opportunities this year with Atlanta, there have been some obstacles he has faced since transitioning to a professional player.

“Keeping the same confidence that you have when you're playing with the academy that you have when you're playing with pros because I remember my first training session... I was scared at first,” said Gordon when asked what the biggest obstacle has been for him personally since playing professionally for Atlanta. “You're not gonna play the same because you're starting to overthink it, but it's just another day of practice. At the end of the day, you just have to be yourself because they brought you up for a reason because of what you do down at field five.”

Many other players from the academy proved themselves on field five as well, and have developed into key playmakers for the first team. Matt Edwards, who plays with Atlanta United 2 and is captain of the team, just signed a Homegrown deal with the club. Efraín Morales, Noah Cobb, Caleb Wiley and Jay Fortune have all been huge to the success of the Five Stripes, and this doesn’t go unnoticed by the academy players, including Gordon. 

“It’s definitely a boost because it makes it more realistic. When you see somebody doing it, you can actually think in your head like, 'You can do that,'” said Gordon. “The coaches also believe in young kids and they want to play young kids, so it just makes it easier for us. It makes us want to play more.”

While Gordon continues to grow with Atlanta, he is striving to continue playing for his national team of Jamaica. He has made four appearances and registered one goal for Jamaica's U17 national team when they competed in the 2023 Concacaf U17 Championship in Guatemala. Gordon scored on his debut in a 4-2 win against Cuba’s U17. Gordon has also played twice for the U20's, scoring once.

“It’s your home. You don’t want to lose, you want to make everybody proud. You’re playing for a whole country,” said Gordon when asked about his experiences playing for Jamaica. “It's not just your family, your city, the boys, it’s for a whole nation and people across the world. So, you see a different type of fight when you're playing. A different type of speed.”

Needless to say, the future's looking bright for this exciting young talent.

Ashton Gordon and Atlanta United 2 are back in action after a long hiatus as they face off against Orlando City B tonight at 7:00 p.m. You'll be able to listen to the match on the SDH Network with pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m.

✍️ Madison Crews

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