Bryce Billington is one of two Georgia natives on an Atlanta SC roster packed with international talent.
His teammates traveled as far as France, Ghana and Venezuela, all relocating to Atlanta to play for the first-year club that competes in soccer's third-tier league.
Billington, a graduate of West Forsyth High School, doesn't need to travel as far when he wants to go home.
But Billington can empathize. After all, he's been in a similar situation before.
His first stop after graduating from West was Aberdeen, Scotland, where he spent half a year playing for Aberdeen FC's U20 team.
“It was amazing. I loved it," Billington said. "I didn’t want to leave, but at the time I was still very young. I was 18 and they told me they were looking for someone who could be the starting keeper for the first team, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Well, that’s fair enough.’ So, I guess they were looking for someone a little bit older.”
Billington, now 23, said he had to acclimate himself to the style of play there, adding that the level he played at in Scotland was quicker and more aggressive.
The club is also much older.
Aberdeen FC was founded in 1903 and has playing in Scotland's top division since 1905, while Atlanta SC's league, the National Independent Soccer Association, was founded in 2017 and played its first match two weeks ago.
Atlanta SC was most recently was known as the Atlanta Silverbacks and played in an amateur league called the National Premier Soccer League. Billington also played for the team when it was the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Atlanta SC lost its first match, a 3-1 decision to Stumptown Athletic from Charlotte, North Carolina. The two teams played at Life University in Marietta.
“It was good. It was the first game of the season, so we’re all getting used to it," Billington said. "And all your teams are new, so you can’t really scout teams and stuff like that.”
NISA is fielding eight teams in its inaugural season, with five expected to join in 2020.
The league differs from the United States' top two professional leagues, MLS and USL, in that it follows a similar schedule as football.
“This new league, they’re not doing it like the MLS or the USL," Billington said. "They’re doing it like the European schedule, so you would start in September, like the Premier League would, then you end in May.”
Billington hopes to climb the ranks of professional soccer, and one way to do that is through a system of promotion and relegation, which would allow the teams in the three tiers to fluctuate, an idea that remains popular despite being struck down in 2017.
"There’s been talk of that, and I personally would like to see promotion/relegation," Billington said. "It would put more pressure on players and it would set the standard higher, I think, because it wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, we finished last. We’ll just be in the MLS again.’ If you get dead last, you’re going to be going down.”
Atlanta SC will visit the Philadelphia Fury at 7 p.m. Saturday before returning home to face the Fury again at 7 p.m. Sept. 28.