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Who’s next? Atlanta United face massive task in replacing Darren Eales

Eales is leaving the club for Newcastle United. Here are a few names worth watching.

SOCCER: AUG 18 MLS - Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the 3rd scene of Act III of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, the 15th and first half of the 16th line read as follows:

I can no other answer make but thanks,

And thanks, and ever thanks;

Atlanta United president Darren Eales’ tweet on Friday afternoon referenced the play, immediately leading some to think that another player was on the way in to the club. But this particular tweet was different in that it was announcing an exit: his own. And after 8 years with Eales at the helm, Atlanta are now in the position of seeking his replacement.

Eales didn’t take long to endear himself to the club’s burgeoning fanbase. A regular at tailgates, he wasn’t afraid to engage in conversation, often, well, partaking in some pre-match activities from time to time. Those, including me, that had an opportunity to speak with him in press conferences — and others that had the chance to sit down with him one-on-one — recall someone that was nothing less than cordial in every interaction. And, of course, there were the patented tweets.

To say that it will be a tough task to fill Darren Eales’ shoes as president of Atlanta United is an understatement. And whoever is ultimately selected will step into a club that burst onto the MLS scene in its early days but is a shell of that today. Who might be on the radar of Arthur Blank and Steve Cannon?

Garth Lagerwey, Seattle Sounders GM/president of soccer

MLS: MLS Cup Champions-Seattle Sounders Parade Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s a club that others around the league aspire to be, it’s probably the Seattle Sounders. Since Lagerwey joined the Sounders in 2015 after serving as Real Salt Lake’s GM for 7 years, they have appeared in 4 MLS Cups (winning 2); won the Concacaf Champions League, the first MLS team to do so it in its current iteration; and have failed to get out of the 1st round of the MLS Cup Playoffs only once. Essentially, outside of a Club World Cup triumph (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek), there’s not much left for him to do, so maybe he’s looking for a new challenge elsewhere? It also helps that he knows Atlanta’s head coach pretty well.

As Sounder At Heart’s Jeremiah Oshan notes, though, if Lagerwey — who faces a vote this year by the club’s Alliance to retain his services, which should be a formality — is wooed by Blank and Cannon, the Sounders could make him an offer that would make it difficult for him to walk. If he does land in Atlanta, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for him to bring in his own technical staff, which could equal a parting of ways with Carlos Bocanegra. (Such is the business, though.)

Dimitrios Efstathiou, Atlanta United vice president of soccer operations and strategy

Atlanta could come to the conclusion that the ideal candidate to take over for Eales is just down the hall. Efstathiou hasn’t been with the club quite that long (he came on board last August from MLS, where he served as the league’s vice president of player relations and its legal affairs head before that), but he was hired to help Atlanta navigate the financial aspect of things. Unlike in the case of Lagerwey, if Efstathiou gets the job, it could bode well for Bocanegra’s retention with the club for continuity’s sake. That said, having been in Atlanta just short of a year, his working relationship with Bocanegra isn’t that extensive, so it may not be out of the question for him to bring in a fresh face he has more familiarity with to oversee the technical side of things.

Nick Kelly, former president, Charlotte FC; former CEO, Tepper Sports & Entertainment

MLS: Charlotte FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte FC turned to Kelly, a former vice president at Anheuser Busch InBev, to be its first president in February 2021 before he was promoted to oversee owner David Tepper’s sports portfolio a year later. In May, after just 3 months with Tepper Sports & Entertainment, he strangely stepped down, just weeks before the sacking of now-former head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez. Despite rumors of front-office discord in the Queen City, Kelly’s role in starting up an expansion side that looks to be gathering momentum deserves credit, and Atlanta presents a much more stable executive environment — on-the-field performance notwithstanding.