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Get to Know New Atlanta United Homegrown Matt Edwards

Matt Edwards started the 2024 season as the captain of Atlanta United 2, and will finish out the season as a homegrown player for the Five Stripes. 

Edwards was signed to a homegrown deal back on June 21 effective immediately, throughout the 2025 season with options through 2027. 

The North Carolina native joined the Atlanta United Academy in 2019 at the U-17 level. He also served as the captain of the U-19, and made his professional debut in 2020 for Atlanta United 2. 

He played in the academy with another first team homegrown in Jay Fortune where their bond stems from more than just their academy years. Both Edwards and Fortune played for Jay Fortune’s father, Andre Fortune, in the IDF. Edwards credits a lot of his success to the Fortune family for helping him get a foot in the door with Atlanta and the University of North Carolina. 

“We [IDF] played against Atlanta in a scrimmage, and I played pretty well in that game, so I got a trial for three days. Then I was playing center back that game, and Tony [Annan] and Matt [Lawrey] saw me and said they were interested,” said Edwards. “I think Jay opened the door for a lot of people on my team because I think there were four or five guys that came out for the tryout on my team, so that’s a testament to him.”

Edwards spoke very highly of his teammate and close friend, Jay Fortune, and how their relationship has grown over the years. 

“I have played with him for eight or nine years. We have the same fútbol education, which is the best part, so when we play together, we just get each other and then I live with him. We’re basically brothers at this point, and he teaches me a lot of lessons too,” said Edwards. “He’s been in the first team environment for a little longer than me, so when I get up there, he just preaches to me certain things like try the difficult pass, don’t just settle for doing the easy stuff all the time and just be confident. You're good enough to be up here, so just show it.”  

Like many young soccer players, Edwards had a very important decision to make: try to make it to a professional level or play at the collegiate level. 

“I didn’t realize I wasn’t ready until I got to college,” said Edwards when asked about the process of deciding to attend UNC. “In my first few weeks of college, I was struggling to adjust to a new team and to adjust to everything. I think I had a little bit of self realization that it was a good decision to go to college because there’s a lot of things I needed to work on.”

At UNC, Edwards played over 43 matches over three seasons, and in 2023, he helped North Carolina make a run in the ACC Tournament Final and the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. 

Heading into the fall of 2023, Edwards had to face another difficult decision. Would he continue with his last year and a half at UNC or come back and play with Atlanta United 2?

However, he had some guidance from one of the newest additions to Rob Valentino’s coaching staff. Matthew Lawrey was the Academy Director from June 2021 until April 2024, and was announced as a first team assistant coach on June 28. 

“It was actually a really tough decision because nothing was laid out. It was more just here is a 2s contract for a year and we'll see what happens. The goal was to try and get me on the first team, and Matt was the guy I usually talk to when it comes to that,” said Edwards. “He was like you have  a bunch of injuries, so it’s tough, but come in the winter and prove yourself. He said I believe in you and you just need to show them that you can do it and it won’t be as hard to get.”  

Edwards took Matt Lawrey’s words to heart and ended up back in the club that helped him grow as a player, and he’s glad he came when he did. He was named captain of Atlanta United 2 and has played in 10 matches and nine starts in the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro.

Even before Edwards was a homegrown player, he was called up to play for the first team in the U.S. Open Cup. He made his first team debut in the Round of 32 match against Charlotte Independence, where he played 64 minutes and registered an assist in the club’s 3-0 victory. He also started in Atlanta’s win over Charleston Battery. The 21-year-old is expected to play a huge role in Atlanta United’s match against Indy Eleven July 9. 

“There’s the pressure coming into it and knowing for me at least that I have to perform if I want to stay up here. It can sometimes be tough, but it’s a little bit of pressure. It won't hurt,” said Edwards. “They [the first team] expect a lot more out of you. You can make a mistake with the 2s and not get punished for it, but if you make it with the first team, you can get punished for it.” 

Edwards' biggest advice to young players who are trying to break through in the professional world of soccer is to dig in every day and to continue to work hard even when you are off the pitch. 

“I think having a commitment to the game and having a commitment to the idea that you’re not always going to succeed. I didn’t come into this game thinking about being a pro. I came into this game because I love it. If you come into something thinking I have to be pro to be successful, I think that’s the worst way to go about it,” said Edwards. “For me, I went to college and I was happy with that. I wasn't set on becoming a pro, so I think that is where my success is coming from. It’s just loving every moment, even if I’m not necessarily succeeding and not being afraid of failing.”

You can listen to Jason Longshore and Madison Crews’ conversation with Matt Edwards down below!

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