clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Darren Eales Thinking Global, Working Local

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Atlanta United has momentum.

With around 4,000 people showing up for the team's brand unveiling, and two Gold Cup semifinals being played in the city, interest in Atlanta United is at an all-time high.

Team President Darren Eales believes that this interest shows that even with 19 months until MLS play begins, the team is laying down roots to be successful. And he's got the ambition to match that momentum.

Eales joined Dirty South Soccer for a chat about the state of the expansion franchise, the next steps, and how he wants to help Atlanta United become a truly global football club.

"We could be one of the big stories in MLS coming in that year and that's what I want us to be," Eales said to Dirty South Soccer.

"I want us to be a team that not only everyone is talking about in America but also internationally. MLS is growing year by year, it is getting an international focus and it'll be great if we can come in in 2017, have all these stories about a new team coming in with a big ticket base and with the players that we put together. And they are talking about it internationally."

Eales says the outpouring of support from around the world for Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra appearing on CNN International to talk about the club shows their global ambitions may not be so far fetched.

For the team though, necessary infrastructure work must be done. A site for the training ground needs to be chosen, and an academy needs to be set up, as soon as possible. Eales echoed that sentiment saying the training ground site is the most pressing objective for the club currently.

A site remains to be determined, but one thing for sure is that it will be closer to the city than the Atlanta Falcons training facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

"What we are trying to do is to look for the best location that ticks all the boxes of what we are looking at," Eales said.

"We're going to need our training ground that will be our home. It will be where our offices are, and where our academy is, which is going to be mighty important to our team going forward. It needs to have a home."

Eales says the training ground cannot serve as an "ivory tower" that only the first team gets to enjoy. The academy will be based out of the training ground, and it must serve as an open place for "all of the community."

As soon as the training ground has ground broken on it, the academy will start to take shape. Eales says it will feature teams all the way down to the under-12 level, and will aim to help raise the level of youth soccer across the entire state. He also wants to bring his background as an executive at Tottenham Hotspur to the club in this area, as well as Bocanegra's experience in playing abroad.

"We will be trying to do everything at the top professional level so we are considered one of the top elite academies in America. From our perspective that's really important," Eales said.

"That's what we will try to do in terms of standing out, so our kids will have sport psychologists and nutritionists. We are looking to have a training ground where everybody is based, and we want the under-12 to come in and when he gets a glimpse at the designated player that's part of the thrill for him and he feels part of that family.

"Now how we go about doing that with the other academies in the area, we've got an open dialogue with them all. We're up front here we want all of Georgia soccer to gain from our presence here."

In addition to figuring out a training ground and academy set up, the team will also hire a head coach, sign players, and align itself within the MLS-USL partnership.

Eales says fans should expect a head coach to be hired in the summer of 2016, and,"that tends to be when coaches are at the end of their contracts," in most places around the world. Like any future hiring, all situations are fluid.

"They are all a bit of a moving target, it's the same with players. They'll be certain players that may become available that we may need to wait on, and there may be some players that become available a little earlier that we may sign and loan them out," Eales said.

"You've always got to be flexible. You have to have strategy and you have to be nimble enough to move at the right opportunity when it is available. That's what we're going to do."

The team is still deciding on whether or not to set up with a full fledged USL second team, like eight MLS franchises have done, or start with an affiliate. If Atlanta United does in fact go with a second team in USL, it may not even be based in Atlanta. Eales confirmed they are studying to see if a market close by, like what the Houston Dynamo are doing with a USL team in Rio Grande.

As for the team in Atlanta, Eales shed some light on the situation with the turf playing field at the new stadium.

"So it's a turf field but it's going to work for soccer that there are going to be a number of factors that make it soccer specific. We can pull the seats back. What that means is we are able to have a FIFA size pitch and the other thing is the lines will be painted on specifically for each game," Eales said.

"We'll have the downsizing for the top level of the stadium, which will be controlling the volume and will create the atmosphere where the noise will be contained in a cauldron, which is different from what you could get if you just sort of tarped them like they do in Seattle. So all of those factors will make it feel like Atlanta United's home only for Atlanta United and when you come."

In addition to bringing MLS quality soccer to Atlanta, the team wants to stay true to its namesake and be inclusive for everyone throughout the city. The team has already partnered with grassroots soccer charities such as "Soccer in the Streets," and will continue to invest in local soccer and other philanthropic efforts when the club is up and running at full steam.

"We want to be out there in the community in all levels and that'll be incumbent on us as we go forward. We want everybody in Atlanta to feel that this is Atlanta's team," Eales said.

"We'll be rolling out more grassroots initiatives and doing stuff through our foundation that we'll be starting up of how we could get out there and help connect and help youth soccer for good. That's something I've seen first hand from my time in England, the ability of using soccer to bring people together you know has amazing power of good and that's what we want to do."