Behind the scenes of Atlanta United’s youth development soccer league

An exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the team’s U17 group

Although soccer doesn’t have quite the cultural footprint that basketball and football have in the United States (yet), the sport continues to grow in popularity in Atlanta. The city played a key role in the bid for the World Cup to come to North America in 2026, and its soccer team, Atlanta United, attracts an average of 48,200 attendees, a league record. And one of the ways the sport can take hold in more imaginations is through accessible youth leagues.

The Atlanta United Academy launched in 2016, just before Atlanta United’s first season in the MLS. The academy consists of seven age groups: U12, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U19 and the participants train and compete at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground in Marietta, Georgia, 20 miles north of Atlanta. The Undefeated gives you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the U17 group as they train, compete at a road game in Nashville, Tennessee, and bond with each other in the week before the start of World Cup madness.

The team warms up on stationary bikes before beginning fitness training at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on June 4.

Atlanta United U17 players prepare to take the practice pitch as Atlanta United 2, the USL squad, practices behind them on June 5.

Josh Francombe, 16, of Atlanta, (second from right) shares a funny video with his teammates before preparing for practice on June 5.

Thomas Toney, 17, (top) and Natnael McDonald, 17, (bottom) work out at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on June 5.

Tony Annan, Atlanta United academy director and U17 head coach, poses for a portrait in the club “boot room” on June 5.

Wasswa Robbins, 15, of Atlanta, (center) listens to the instructions of head coach Tony Annan before beginning a drill at practice on June 5.

The Atlanta United U17 team runs drills during practice on June 4 in Marietta, Georgia.

The Atlanta United U17 and U19 players travel by bus to Nashville, Tennessee, to face the Columbus Crew Academy teams on June 6.

Atlanta United U19 head coach Rodrigo Rios plans his starting lineup during the bus ride to Nashville, Tennessee, where his team would play against the Columbus Crew U19 team.

Jordan Matthews, 16, of Acworth, Georgia, watches the TV show Riverdale on his laptop to pass the time during the four-hour bus ride to Nashville, Tennessee, on June 6.

George Campbell dribbles the ball as the Atlanta United U17 team takes on the Columbus Crew U17 team in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 6.

Atlanta United teammates huddle as they prepare to start their match against the Columbus Crew Academy team on June 6.

Defender Matthew Rios, 17, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, leaves the June 6 game early with a knee injury, hoping to prevent problems that would keep him from playing in the upcoming playoffs.

The Atlanta United U17 team shakes hands with the Columbus Crew U17 team after losing 2-1 in their friendly match on June 6.

The Atlanta United team listens to coach Tony Annan as he explains changes in tactics on June 6.


Danielle A. Scruggs is a photo editor for The Undefeated. She is a Chicago native and firmly believes no sports team will ever be as great as the Chicago Bulls during their three-peat eras.