Welcome back to a Dirty South Soccer Conversation. This week two of our writers chat about this week's big training facility news. Atlanta United revealed their plans for their facility/team headquarters in Marietta on Monday and we need to talk about it.
Rob: Atlanta United unveiled their plans for a $60 Million, state of the art training facility this week. Does this signal the club's intent and willingness to invest in youth development or does it tell us something else?
Brendan: First: it's a signal of intent that they will be taking soccer incredibly seriously. There's always a bit of fear in MLS circles about NFL owners not taking their soccer teams seriously, and that included Atlanta United. The word "second class citizens" is thrown around a lot. However, dropping $60 million on a training ground should stop any of those claims in their tracks. If they stick to these building plans, then we're looking at a top-5 soccer training center in North America, possibly top-3.
Second: It absolutely speaks to the club's commitment to youth development. When building a club, you want to streamline. The academy players are doing the same thing in the same place as the senior squad. You are a member of the club regardless of age. You eat in the same place, you train in the same place. And when the coaches want to pull in a kid from the youth level to train with the senior squad, he's only a field or two away (ignoring that the teams probably won't be training at the same time).
It's a very, very good sign and while the American soccer community was expecting Atlanta United to be a player, I don't think they expected this much investment right off the bat.
Rob: I agree. I think this project sends a message to everyone involved in American soccer that Atlanta United is no joke. They're coming into the league with huge aspirations of being a top team. With all this money spent on just the training facility do you think they'll back it up with funds in other places like buying players? Or is this another situation like Real Salt Lake who seem to have gone all-in on youth development and aren't exactly big spenders in any other department?
Brendan: If the club is as popular as anticipated, I think they actually have a decent shot at producing revenue, which is unheard of for most teams. So will they buy players? I think they will. Even if they avoid the Giovinco's and Villa's of the world and focus on the FC Dallas-type of Designated Player, I think they will make big signings. Some (I) would argue that the latter type is even better to build your club around.
If anything, the new training center will be the centerpiece in attracting these players whether they be superstars or players on the way to becoming superstars. It can either be a place that provides comfort to a European superstar showing that America's facilities are just as good if not better, or it can represent a place that will take the game of a young Caribbean/African/Asian/South American player to the next level.
Rob: It would seem that the amazing facility would give the club an advantage in recruiting players. Unfortunately, it seems like most clubs are competing against themselves and not other MLS clubs when fighting for players, so it may not be such a comparative advantage within the league on that note.
But let's shift back to the youth level. I find it very interesting that Darren Eales is so adamant about having every youth level under the same roof. He's even planning to implement a mentor program from age group to age group. Frankly, I'm not sure if this is abnormal in the MLS realm or not, but I think having a facility big enough to pull this off could be a huge help for overall youth development for the club. Do you think having a facility of this magnitude to allow for this structure will make a major difference in 5-10 years time or will it be minimal?
Brendan: I think we're looking at the facility that will produce multiple Homegrown players leading to a few significant transfer fees. Obviously, it takes way more than brick and mortar to produce a player, but this facility will definitely help. For a facility of this magnitude, I'm also thinking that we're looking at a USL team and a residential academy in the near future. You don't build six fields with the intent of bringing in youth players a few times per week.
It'll take time, youth development always takes time, but they're hitting the ground running which is better than you can say for every other MLS expansion team.
Rob: Time seems to be something that they're willing to invest (along with their dollars). That's what makes this franchise so exciting. They're doing everything the way it should be done. Thinking long term and not fretting over which big name player they should sign to get people to buy tickets or sell merchandise in year one. Their vision for the future is extremely intriguing for the region.
Brendan: Hopefully they stay the course. Everyone (EVERYONE) keeps waiting for Atlanta United to make a real mistake so they can go, "A ha! See! See! They're blowing it!" For some, that was the name thing with Minnesota. I don't really care what they call themselves, but I understand how that's important to people.
Regardless, they're on a roll right now. Hopefully, it continues.
Rob: There will always be minor squabbles over things like names and logos. There was never going to be one-hundred percent approval on those topics. It's the big picture stuff that matters most and so far they're doing it all right. Like you said hopefully, they keep it up.