The month was September and the year was 19**. I’m not giving up my age that fast for some of you to open up a Citibank account in my name. LOL. But I was looking forward to turning 16 and getting my right of passage – a driver’s license. Every young man can attest to that moment of finally being able to legally drive by yourself. It is a monumental achievement, because it is the beginning of maturity and responsibility. It means that the one hair on your chin is the start of manhood. It also helps that the girls begin to notice you more at that age. Even young ladies can remember when they turned 16, because there is huge production for that day. The “Sweet 16” party is an acknowledgement of a young girl starting to become a young lady. And for those of us who have daughters, it is the time that knuckle-headed boys become an issue. Now that you have reflected on when you were 16, can you imagine having to play a professional sport?

At first glance, Andrew Carleton seems to be your typical 5’7” 145 pound teenager. However, you realize he is much more. The native of Powder Springs, GA, is a member of the Atlanta United Football Club. Yes, he is on Atlanta’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Carleton became Atlanta’s first homegrown player on June 9, 2016. At the youth level, Carleton began playing with his home club Georgia United Soccer Alliance. That is when United’s head coach Gerardo Martino noticed him. He said, “I’m very excited for Chris and the future of our club. I was able to see Chris play with the U-17s and he has huge potential. I look forward to working with him.” United’s President Darren Eales commented, “As a club, we’ve set out to commit considerable resources to building the strongest academy in the league, in an effort to lay a firm foundation for our future. Identifying and developing the best youth players from the Atlanta area has been a priority.”

On May 20, 2017, the United were hosting the Houston Dynamo. It was a rain delay to begin the match which means that the Saturday night crowd would not be the normal 55,000 plus sell out. That didn’t stop the 40,000 fans that stayed and watched the team go up 4-1 in the last few minutes of the game. With four minutes left to go in the game, everyone rose to their feet to give Miguel Almiron a round of applause for his hat trick (scoring three goals in a game). But there was another reason for a standing ovation, Carleton was entering the game. Tata Martino had just been ejected, but apparently figured this would be a great opportunity for the youngster to get in the game. He said, “We put him on the bench because we are confident that he can provide us with his skill when we need an extra ‘winger’. Today, the game was already decided when we put him in, but we wanted to do it first to be able to give Miguel (Almirón) an applause for the great game that he played, and also since the game was already decided we could kind of take the pressure of Carleton’s debut. Now, he is debuted at 16 years of age and there is less of a demand and less pressure on him for that.” 

When asked if he could hear the fans, Carleton replied, “They are little too loud to not hear. I was just focused on getting in and doing my job but I of course heard them.” You could tell he was prepared for the big moment. He didn’t allow the bright lights and the noise to disrupt him. In those last few minutes of the game, he played extremely well for someone his age. He didn’t cause a turnover that would have allowed another score. He said, “At first, I was just trying to run away from (DaMarcus) Beasley. I was just trying to get up the field and get away from our goal. It looked like I maybe could have got through but being up 4-1 late in the game, I was just trying to kill the game off and be able to keep the ball.” That doesn’t sound like a 16 year old in his first major league debut. That sounds like 16 year veteran. “It was unbelievable,” said Carleton. “It was a dream come true to be able to make my first MLS appearance and to be able to just get on the field for a few minutes. It was an unbelievable feeling. I have been dreaming about this moment since I first started playing soccer so it was a dream come true.”

I couldn’t even imagine the pressure of such a moment at 16. Congratulations Carleton and here is too much continued success in the league. Maybe some of you reading this will accomplish something similar or even greater at 16 years of age. Just remember that age is nothing but a number.

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