When the clock strikes midnight to ring in the new year, we'll be just one year away from Atlanta United taking the field. 2016 should be a busy year for the fledgling club. 2015 was a fun year, but we haven't even scratched the surface of what's left to get the team ready for March 2017.
Barring some unforeseen hang ups, we should see a bunch of club firsts in the next calendar year. The club will hire a manager. And they'll be making several player signings. It's going to be a fun ride with the inevitable ups and downs along the way.
Here are a few New Year's resolutions that AUFC should be looking to keep throughout this next year:
Stay away from aging European players
MLS has to work hard to attract top talent to its league. The world's top stars prefer the big leagues like the Premier League, La Liga, or the Bundesliga. It's just a fact of life and a trend that will take decades for the league to break. The natural reaction to this is to wait for those top players to reach the back end of their careers and then sign them.
We've seen it time and time again over the years. Atlanta United needs to avoid this route at all costs. Unless an amazing bargain comes along that is impossible to pass up, they need to focus on bringing in players in their prime.
It's tempting to try and make a splash by signing a recognizable name, but in most instances, the risk outweighs the reward. Either the player is looking for an easy payday to end their careers on or they don't know what they're getting into with MLS. The smart thing for AUFC is to avoid those risks and sign young players who are hungry to prove themselves.
Keep supporters informed on the Academy
In reality, the first ever Atlanta United branded team to take the field will be from the club's academy. It will kick off in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in August. AUFC supporters are desperate for information and news about the team. When the first ever on-field action under the AUFC name takes place, it'll be human nature that we'll want to know what's going on.
USSDA information isn't exactly readily available around the internet or on TV. It would be wise for the club to do the best they can to keep its supporters aware of the Academy's progress throughout their inaugural season. If they are serious about investing a ton of money into the Academy they also need to be open about sharing information with the masses about how it's going.
Sign the best manager possible
This seems like an obvious one, but one that has been hotly contested. There has been much debate around the community about what type of manager AUFC should go after. An MLS-experience manager? A manager with local ties? None of that should be huge factors when making this huge decision. They need to find the best manager that fits exactly what they hope to accomplish as a club. It shouldn't matter if they've managed 20 years in MLS or one year in Timbuktu.
Find a manager who is going to be here for the long haul. One with a vision and willingness to build a club from scratch. On-field strategical awareness will be important, but so will how they interact and coincide with the front office.
Just keep doing what you're doing
You're doing a great job, AUFC. All things considered, it's been about as smooth of an entrance into the MLS environment for the club as anyone could've hoped for. There have been only two news items that have brought any sort of negativity onto the club.
The first was the naming of the club. It wasn't a pretty initial reaction when MLS Atlanta received the 'Atlanta United FC' name. That outrage has evolved to the acceptance stage of grief. Then there was the DeKalb County training facility fiasco. They agreed in principle to a deal to build their training facility and team headquarters in DeKalb County. Only to discover that the build site was contaminated by an old landfill. Extra costs to make the site viable were deemed too much and the deal died. A minor disappointment for those in the area hoping to experience it first hand, but a disappointment nonetheless.
Aside from those two hiccups along the way, it's been a great 2015 for AUFC. 2016 should be an adventure. As long as they continue their good relationship with the supporters, it should be a comfortable ride into 2017.