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Eales, Bocanegra focus efforts on returning Atlanta United to glory in 2021

The club’s brass give updates on several key factors heading into a busy offseason.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra held their annual end of season media availability on Monday and answered a host of different questions. After three wildly successful seasons to begin their existence, Atlanta United hit a massive bump in the road in 2020. The club’s brass sat down with the media to discuss how they plan on getting back to the pinnacle or at least regaining some semblance of fun.

In typical Atlanta United fashion, they answered almost every question with just enough context to inform the public but still leaving everyone wanting more. Here’s a rundown of what they had to say.

The Search

The biggest takeaway from the hour-long session has to be the coaching search. Unfortunately there were no concrete updates on what names they’re looking at or who they’ve interviewed. However, the fact that Bocanegra revealed that the club hopes to announce something before the end of 2020 is a good sign. To me, that signifies that they have a plan in place and feel good about executing it. Otherwise, we likely would’ve gotten the same routine answer of “the search is going well, blah blah blah”. This club is big on keeping things close to the vest and this situation is no different. The bright side is that it appears we can expect news relatively soon.

When asked what type of manager profile the club are looking at, Bocanegra delivered a by-the-book response of matching the Atlanta United way of playing. Eales offered a bit more interesting of a perspective. When talking about the decision to part ways with Frank de Boer in July, Eales said it was clear that the style of play wasn’t what you’d expect from an Atlanta United team. He added that it never crossed his mind to wait and hope that things changed under Frank, so the decision was made quickly. He mentioned that the long period of time between the departure of De Boer and now gave the club time to get their next hire right.

“It gave us a maximum opportunity of time to do that thorough search,” Eales said in a teleconference. “And to make sure we get it right. To make sure we get someone as a head coach of this club that is going to play the way we expect. That exciting, pressing style of football. We made the change we did to give ourselves that opportunity. Now, we’ve come to the end of our regular season, by the time we start next season we’ve got to have that head coach in place that’s part of that jig-saw puzzle. As part of this resurgence to get back the Atlanta United that everyone wants to watch.”

The King Returneth

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Round One-New England Revolution at ATLANTA United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

No specifics were provided on Josef Martinez’s rehab, but the Club President made it clear that he’ll be relied upon heavily in 2021.

“We’ve got Josef coming back,” Eales said. “A huge important part for us going into 2021. It’s not only his goals but his aura when Josef is on the pitch, just that knowledge that you have someone that if you give him a couple of chances, you can be damn sure he’s going to score at least one of them.”

“He’s been very focused on his rehabilitation. We want to be careful. There’s no question of us trying to rush him back. We’re now looking towards 2021 when Josef comes back so he’s had that long platform timewise to get back.”

Money Talks

Some good news heading into next season is that it seems the club have some flexibility within the salary cap to make moves. Both Darren and Carlos both acknowledged that they have some extra room this offseason to make tweaks to the roster, unlike last offseason where they were handcuffed a bit.

“In a salary cap league, we’re always trying to maximize our roster,” Bocanegra said. “That balance between winning and mortgaging our future. This season was a good example. We didn’t want to mortgage our future for 2021, 22, 23 and destroy our salary cap by pulling money forward. This [next] season we’re going to have to have some changes.”

“Any mechanism available to us through Major League Soccer and the rule changes that come into effect,” Eales added. “We’ll obviously be ready to take advantage of that. We’ve got some ability with the salary cap and a little more wiggle room going into next year in terms of some things we can do. So we feel pretty good how we can strengthen the squad.”

Random Notes

  • Eales said the team doesn’t know exactly when the 2021 season will start. As of now they are preparing for a normal start time.
  • He singled out George Bello’s emergence as a reliable starter, Jon Gallagher’s arrival as an contributor, Jurgen Damm’s bright play and Marcelino Moreno as bright spots from the 2020 season.
  • Eales acknowledged the current difficulties of finding Atlanta United matches on streaming services. He said the club is in contact with FOX Sports and hopes that some agreement can be made between Sinclair Broadcasting and the services. He added that fans putting pressure on both parties can help facilitate a deal.
  • Darren also fully expects Ezequiel Barco to return in 2021, citing his frustrating injury problems for his struggles this season.
  • Bocanegra said the club will have to announce their contract option decisions within the next 7-10 days. He added that they’ll explore all options in regards to the CCL quarterfinal second leg against Club America, including inviting some USL and academy players to train with the first team.

You can watch the entire press conference on Atlanta United’s YouTube channel here.