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Young Blood: Atlanta United Leaning on Homegrowns as They Prepare for Real Salt Lake

Atlanta United is gearing up for their second road match of the week against Real Salt Lake. After a 2-1 loss against the New England Revolution and the U.S. Open Cup around the corner, the Five Stripes will look to some of their homegrown players to give them the spark they need on the road. 

Ever since Atlanta United’s inaugural season back in 2017, the club has always put a huge emphasis on development of Academy and Homegrown players, and many homegrowns are stepping up to the plate for the Five Stripes. 

In their last double-match week where Atlanta was on the road for both matches, the five homegrowns had stand out performances. While there are other MLS clubs who have played five homegrown players this season, Atlanta United is the only one who has featured all five players on the pitch at the same time, which was when Atlanta beat D.C. United on the road 1-0 on July 19.  

“Those young guys, that’s just their age, they’re young. Guess what, they show up like Luke [Brennan] did last week, those two [Noah Cobb and Efraín Morales] did it this week. I just think it’s a testament to the club, I think you see that these kids really feel like a part of it,” said Rob Valentino after the homegrown’s performances in Atlanta’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United. “Efra and these guys have been with the club since they were kids and they feel pride in putting that jersey on and being able to defend something like that. I think that’s really cool for me to see them grow and be with the club in a good moment like that.”

All of these players started at the Academy, then moved to play with Atlanta United 2, and now have very important roles within the first team. Caleb Wiley, Noah Cobb, Luke Brennan, Efrain Morales and Jay Fortune have all stepped up and proven that they belong in the conversation for who gets minutes with the first team. Tyler Wolff has also recently returned from injury and Matt Edwards has just recently signed his MLS homegrown deal. All are part of the group who could feature against Real Salt Lake Saturday night.

“The best thing about having the roster that we have is the competition,” said Rob Valentino when asked about Jay Fortune’s performance against St. Louis. “These guys know that this kid is right on their heels and deserves an opportunity.” 

The homegrowns have proven themselves on the pitch with their individual performances, but they have also shown how well they work together on and off the pitch. Caleb Wiley and Noah Cobb have been focal points in the back line for the Five Stripes, and connect very well on the field. 

“Me and Caleb honestly haven't played that much together. We were actually calculating it one day. Before this year, we played together maybe 12 times. So, it really wasn't that much, but we're great friends off the field, and I think that carries over on the field,” said Cobb when asked about his relationship with Wiley on and off the pitch. “We communicate, we talk, and we know what each other wants to do. I think that's what ends up helping us.”

This trust also stems from a lot of the homegrown playing together since their time in the academy. 

“It’s amazing, especially since we are all on the same field at the same time doing what we love,” said Caleb Wiley after Atlanta’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC. “ It’s pretty cool because I have grown up with a lot of these guys and to see their paths, to see them grow is awesome, and I'm looking forward to their journeys and looking forward to all of us improving our game.”

Atlanta United is continuing to lean on the homegrown players as they have recently added Edwards, who is captain of Atlanta United 2, to the MLS roster after he signed a homegrown deal on June 21. He touched on his relationship with Fortune, and how he helps him whenever he comes up to play with the first team. 

“We’re basically brothers at this point, and he teaches me a lot of lessons too. 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,” said Edwards. “You're good enough to be up here, so just show it.”  

Adyn Torres, who signed a Homegrown deal in January 2024, was selected to be in the MLS Next All-Star Game and is becoming a key player with Atlanta United 2. Ashton Gordon has also had starting roles in Atlanta’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run alongside Edwards, he has been part of the road trip and will potentially earn another start on Tuesday against Indy Eleven in the quarterfinals of the Cup. This goes to show that sometimes what you are looking for is right in your own backyard. 

Atlanta United is back in action Saturday, July 7 as they take on Real Salt Lake at 9:30 p.m. You can watch the match on Apple TV's MLS Season Pass or you can listen to the match on 92.9 the Game with pregame coverage starting at 8:30 p.m.


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