The expansion struggle is real for any new pro sports team. That's especially true in MLS, as Brendan Joseph pointed out, with only a handful of expansion teams making the playoffs in their inaugural season.
Thankfully, Atlanta United FC has a lot going for it already, starting with a solid leadership team. Arthur Blank has a track record of relative success as owner of the Falcons. President Darren Eales has extensive soccer management experience, and his handiwork is now paying dividends at former club Tottenham Hotspur, who currently sit second in the Premier League table. Carlos Bocanegra may not have much front office experience, but he's Captain Freaking America.
And our delayed, yet ridiculously good-looking Benz of a stadium is going to blow people's minds, as will the sweet state-of-the-art training facility opening next year in Marietta. On the marketing/branding side, everything's humming along with a record number of season ticket deposits. Clearly we Atlanta soccer fans are desperate to have a team to live and die for.
All that's great. But some lingering questions remain:
- Who will be our first head coach?
- How much will Arthur Blank invest in the roster? Are we talking Toronto FC levels of excess ($20.4 million payroll) or the more cautious approach of smaller market teams like Real Salt Lake ($3.9 million) or the Columbus Crew ($4.6 million)?
- Will we find a diamond in the rough via the SuperDraft?
- Will our scouting network be up and running in time to introduce impactful domestic players right from the start?
- Will we be able to create a balanced roster with a potent attack, creative midfield, and stingy back line?
- Which Designated Players should we try to wine, dine, and sign? (Please Lord, let it be Ibra!)
- Can we fill the rest of our international roster slots with reasonably priced foreign talent?
We don't yet have answers to these questions, and any attempt to answer them is kind of a silly exercise at this point. (Fun, but silly.)
What we can do is look at the previous expansion efforts to see what worked, what didn't, and what Atlanta United FC's top brass can learn from previous first-year efforts in MLS.
I'll start off the series tomorrow with a team that can provide plenty of examples of what AUFC should definitely not do...New York City FC.