Georgia youth soccer guide

What is this? See About the Area Guides.

My first Area Guide was metro D.C., where three different leagues are coaxing teams to leave the traditional local leagues in the maddening quest for “elite” status.

Georgia was simpler. Until May 2018. Then everything fell apart. *

The state has plenty of “elite” teams and players. Concorde Fire has a couple of U.S. Youth national championships. Several other clubs have one — AFC Lightning, GSA Phoenix and Peachtree City Lazers in older days, United Alpharetta Ambush, NASA and United Futbol Academy Elite (yes, the name is awful, but don’t hold that against the players) more recently.

In the late 2010s, at least nine players from the state were on national team radars. The Atlanta area is particularly good at developing goalkeepers such as Jane Campbell, Sean Johnson and Joe Bendik. Defenders? How about Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman? Look to the coast for midfield engine Morgan Brian, and keep an eye on phenom Andrew Carleton. Years ago, Georgia unleashed the creative energy of Clint Mathis upon the world.

And in the early 1980s, the Athens Applejacks had a young shaggy-haired center back who probably should’ve played soccer in high school instead of running track, but at least he grew up to write Ranting Soccer Dad. The Applejacks folded into Athens … sigh … United. Couldn’t we at least be the Cannons or something?

So if you want to play Development Academy soccer and live in somewhere in the Atlanta sprawl, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Georgia has its own division in the U12 league as of 2018, making it one of the rare places in which playing DA ball means you might travel less than you would in the local league.

One tricky part here is defining “Atlanta.” Georgia counties are tiny, so the city limits of Atlanta spill from Fulton County into DeKalb County. The Atlanta Regional Commission includes 10 counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, Fayette, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. The Chamber of Commerce extends the metro area out to the Alabama line to the west and nearly to Athens to the east, but does not include Hall County (Gainesville, see Lanier Soccer Association below), which is included in other accountings. I’m going with the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Into the abyss:

CLUBS COMPETING NATIONALLY (league assignments of 2017-18; will update shortly)

About the Development Academy, ECNL and other competitions

AFC Lightning (Peachtree City, Ga.): All fields are in Fayette County, south of Atlanta. Associated with Peachtree City Lazers, Fayette County Youth Soccer League and Atlanta UnitedBoys’ DA: U12, U14

Atlanta United FC (Atlanta, Ga.): Yes, this is the MLS team that draws massive crowds in the stadium it shares with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Boys’ DA: all ages

Atlanta Fire United (Duluth, Ga.): Not to be confused with Concorde Fire. Boys’ ECNL. Girls’ ECNL.

Concorde Fire (Atlanta, Ga.): Big club with five branches in and around Atlanta and full operations in both DA and ECNL. Girls’ DA. Boys’ DA: all ages. Boys’ ECNL. Girls’ ECNL.

Gwinnett Soccer Academy (GSA) (Lilburn, Ga.): Reps an Atlanta suburban county that has grown from 72,349 people in 1970 to 907,135 in 2016, and the club got a good bit bigger when it merged with Dacula Soccer Club. Boys’ ECNL. Girls’ ECNL.

Lanier Soccer Association (Gainesville, Ga.): Just outside Atlanta’s exurbs. The girls now have a partnership with NTH TophatBoys’ DA: U12, U14

North Atlanta Soccer Association (NASA)/NTH Tophat (Atlanta, Ga.): A merged megaclub that does indeed cover a lot of North Atlanta and up into northern suburbs Marietta, Kennesaw and Woodstock. The Tophat name comes from a Navy fighter squadronBoys’ DA: U12, U14. Girls’ DA. Girls’ ECNL.

Southern Soccer Academy (Austell, Ga.): Sixteen locations throughout Georgia, from Rome to Brunswick. Boys’ DA: U12, U14

United Futbol Academy (Atlanta, Ga.): Should be docked points for using “United” and “Academy” and then nothing unique with the third word in its name. Fifteen locations — five in North Atlanta, five in the mountains, five in South Georgia. Girls’ DA. Boys’ DA: all ages (adding U19 in 2018-19)

You may have noticed that some of the big Atlanta metro clubs tend to spread themselves all over Atlanta, if not Georgia as a whole. This isn’t metro DC, where Arlington, McLean, Bethesda and other suburbs have their own geographically named clubs with national aspirations. And most of these clubs have some sort of agreement with new Major League Soccer colossus Atlanta United. Consider Andrew Carleton, who played in the 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer championships with UFA before moving on to Atlanta United’s academy and then onto the club’s pro teams.

Lanier, GSA and AFC Lightning keep to geographic areas, though they may draw players from beyond those boundaries. NASA/NTH Tophat has a broad definition of “North Atlanta.” Atlanta Fire United (which still has the URL despite the existence of Atlanta United) is really based a few miles up I-85 in Duluth and Suwanee. Atlanta United (which had to settle for the abbreviated address) only deals with the elite of the elite, so it draws from all over but has a smaller physical presence. The other three clubs are all over the place.

So take this map with a grain of salt:


Disclaimer: Not all teams in “elite” leagues are actually “elite.” See the “About” page.

Through spring 2018, we just had two NPLs that included a few Georgia clubs:

South Atlantic Premier League: You may notice that the three Georgia clubs here (UFA, SSA, AFC Lightning) also have DA programs. So, for example, AFC Lightning in 2017-18 entered one U14 team in the DA and a second in the SAPL. The rest of the league: A cluster in North Carolina’s Triangle area, a cluster around Charlotte, then other clubs stretching from Tennessee to Charleston. (South Carolina. Please don’t get in a car in Atlanta and drive to West Virginia expecting an SAPL game.)

Gulf States Premier League: Most of the league is indeed quite close to the Gulf of Mexico, stretching northward into the legitimate “Gulf States” of Alabama and Mississippi. But it also includes one Georgia club, the school-based Darlington Soccer Academy in Rome.

And then this happened …

Southeastern Clubs Champions League *: Five of the big ATL clubs — Concorde Fire, GSA, NASA/NTH Tophat, SSA and UFA — are forming a new league with three others: Birmingham United (not far across the Alabama line), Vestavia Hill SC (ditto) and Carolina Elite Soccer Academy (a little less than three hours away in Greenville, S.C.).

We think these are mostly B teams, given the fact that most of these clubs have DA or ECNL teams. Two are also in SAPL (above) at last check, so parents are frantically trying to figure out which teams are entering which leagues.


Want a map of the Athena and Classic leagues in Georgia? Here you go:


Nice and simple, isn’t it? Here’s the rundown:

Academy is for U9 and U12. The clubs do their own scheduling, so there’s not really a “league” per se. In my experience in Northern Virginia, “league” scheduling results in a lot of lopsided, non-competitive games because the league has no idea how strong these teams are, so this approach looks promising on paper but surely varies depending on how attentive the technical directors really are.

Athena (girls) and Classic (boys) are for U13 and up. They’re traditional promotion/relegation leagues — the Classic divisions are named 1 through 5, while Athena goes with the letters A through D. The lower divisions are often split into North/South or East/West.

Fun fact: The Georgia Soccer site has “overall club standings,” which surely don’t tell you who’s best but gives a sense of who fields the most teams in Athena and Classic (and RIAS — see below). Being a spreadsheet nerd, I came up with this:

Games played by club
630 Southern Soccer Academy (see above)
601 United FA (see above)
590 GSA (Gwinnett; see above)
545 Concorde Fire (see above)
449 NASA Select (North Atlanta; see above)
352 Inter Atlanta FC Blues
340 United FA Norcross
289 Atlanta Fire United
277 Steamers FC (Lawrenceville; formerly Georgia FC)
Then Athens United is 10th, giving us a chance to start this list …

Games played by non-Atlanta club
247 Athens United
210 Southern Alliance Futbol (merger of Macon SC and Central Georgia SA)
186 CFC Red Star (Columbus Youth Soccer)
177 Augusta Arsenal
174 Pro-Profile Academy/Georgia Storm (Douglasville/Carrollton, barely west of ATL)
159 Southern Soccer Academy Savannah United
152 Lanier Soccer Association (Gainesville; see above)

So … yes, it’s a lot of ATL.

Games played by conglomerate (including RIAS)
1,274 United FA (includes South Georgia and Mountains as well as several ATL)
1,229 Southern Soccer Academy (includes Savannah as well as several ATL)
737 GSA (Gwinnett)
643 NASA/NTH Tophat
565 Concorde Fire
439 Atlanta Fire United
359 Pro-Profile Academy / Georgia Storm
325 AFC Lightning / Fayette County / Peachtree City
288 Lanier Soccer Association
276 Athens United
268 Alliance FC / Jackson County


Recreation Inter-Affiliate Scheduled (RIAS) is an interesting “tweener” program, with Georgia Soccer organizing inter-club competitions for rec teams starting at U12.

SAY has no programs in Georgia or Alabama.

AYSO Area 5G is mostly Tennessee but includes Region 1612 in Atlanta. That’s the only region I could find in Georgia. Section 14 covers Florida and is supposed to reach into south Georgia but didn’t have any regions listed.

Updated May 8, 2018 * (new league and general chaos)

Updated April 18, 2018 (LSA-Tophat partnership)

Something missing? Let me know.