Andrew Carleton...maybe you’ve heard of him? The 17-year-old is one of the young stars of the United States Youth National Team U-17s and is a member of Atlanta United in Major League Soccer. 2017 has been a big year for Carleton, a year which included his MLS debut and a trip to India for the U-17 World Cup. As an official Homegrown Player of the Five Stripes, Carleton provides hope for the development system in the USA and the future of the United States Men’s National Team.
Carleton recently took time to chat with SSFC. Here is what he had to say:
How was your experience in India at the U-17 World Cup, where you started in all 5 matches, scoring 2 goals and providing 3 more assists? And which teammates have you been most impressed with?
Any time you are playing for your country, it is a dream come true, but to be able to do it on the world stage is something that is just so special and to be able to have a good and deep run in the tournament was another great accomplishment. I know that the team had bigger goals in mind [The USYNT was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual champion England] as we wanted to be the first team to make the semi-final since the ‘99 cycle came in fourth, and we were ultimately hoping to improve on that result and go farther than they did, but you know we came up against a really, really good England team who were the best team in the tournament.
Personally, I felt like I had a good World Cup and hopefully down the road I will be able to play in a few more. Guys like Josh Sargent and Timothy Weah had really good tournaments, Chris Durkin did as well. I’m excited to see where they go and I know they have a big part in the future of U.S. Soccer.
How big of a deal is it for the USMNT to miss the World Cup in 2018 and does that help to motivate you to get the program back on track?
Any time that you don’t qualify for a World Cup or a major tournament, it’s a big hit to your country. We were in India when that became official and we realized that as a group we have an even bigger responsibility now to give the country hope, that there is a future and that we haven’t peaked as a country - if you want to call it that. I think we did that. We had a few games where we outplayed some really good teams [most notably Ghana and Paraguay] and we showed that there is a lot of talent in this country that is coming through.
So hopefully we get everything straightened out to be able to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
How was the experience in Chicago this summer during the all-star festivities where you started in the MLS Homegrown Game? Who did you get to meet while you were there?
It was an awesome experience, playing with some of the guys I’ve grown up watching with the youth national teams and have now broken into their MLS teams, such as Tyler Adams and Justin Glad.
Also, when I made my MLS debut, I played against DeMarcus Beasley and took a picture with him after the game and then I saw him at All-Star weekend in Chicago and was able to have a little bit of a conversation with him. It was nice to see him again and talk with a guy that has had such a great professional career.
Do you have any current players that you particularly enjoy watching or like to model your game after?
It’s pretty cool because I have a guy that plays at the same club [Atlanta United] as I do in Miguel Almiron. He is the most fun guy in the league to watch and it’s great to be able to train with him every day. Even though we are a little bit of a different type of player, it’s the looking up to him in the ways that he takes care of himself as a player and lives his life [that’s] something that every young player should try and emulate. The way that he carries himself day in and day out of training and always giving 110%, he is somebody that I really look up to both on and off the field.
Continuing with Atlanta United, is the hype for real and how is it being a Homegrown player?
I’m incredibly happy being here in Atlanta, it’s my home and is somewhere I have been for my entire life, and I feel comfortable here. It’s somewhere that I can grow and reach the potential that I have for myself and that I will one day be able to reach. I’m playing under a coach, Tata Martino, that has coached at the highest levels. He knows my goals that I want to play in Europe one day, that is something that I haven’t hid from. I’m not afraid to say that one day I want to be able to play in the UEFA Champions League, but right now I’m happy as can be in Atlanta. I love it here and I feel that it is somewhere that I am supposed to be and that it’s part of God’s plan for me to be here in my hometown. It fits well and it is somewhere that I truly enjoy.
As for the hype, I’d say yes. The team is unbelievable and the fans are even better. The way the city has grabbed onto the team is truly insane and it makes the environment that we play in week in and week out one of the best in the world and by far the best in the league.
Growing up in Georgia did you ever think that you would see the day that an MLS team in Atlanta would be averaging almost 50,000 fans per match?
No, I definitely did not. Until I was 14 or so, there was not even a sniff of an MLS team coming. So when the team was announced I was always keen on being a part of it. But, the way that the fans came together for the team and the atmosphere that they create is something that I or anyone couldn’t even dream of a few years ago.
You signed a Homegrown contract with Atlanta United when you were only 15 years old, became the youngest American ever to start in a USL match with Atlanta’s affiliate the Charleston Battery, made your professional debut in Major League Soccer at 16, and are quickly becoming a household name in American soccer. What’s next for Andrew Carleton?
Up next is focusing on the upcoming season with Atlanta United. Rest up through this offseason and get prepared to be able to fight for a spot on the team and be able to be a bigger face of the team next year, whether that’s coming off the bench more often or whatever that is. Just breaking into the team more and kind of moving up by continuing to get more minutes and more game time and take it from there.