"The capital of soccer in this nation"
The federation officially announced on Friday it would build a national training center in or near the Georgia capital in the coming years, a facility that will also become the organization’s headquarters. And the scale of that news – for both sport and city – was driven home in no uncertain terms at The Benz.
“We've been celebrating the 50th year of hip-hop over the last month, with the events and concerts with our friends here at Atlanta United. And so in that spirit,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens with a grin, “when it comes to soccer in the United States: The South has got something to say.”
It was a callback, of course, to an iconic declaration by Outkast’s André 3000 after the now-legendary duo won “best new rap group” honors at the 1995 Source Awards, proudly putting the rest of the country on notice even as the skeptical New York crowd booed their ascension.
“This is big, y’all, and we in Atlanta are very excited,” Dickens added. “Atlanta is a sports city, we are a soccer city and now we are the capital of soccer in this nation.”
The emotions shown by U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO JT Batson – the latter of whom is a Georgia native – drove home the monumental scope of this move, which has been years in the making.
“Thank you to the U.S. Soccer team, who really toiled late and on weekends to make this happen, and to be fair to them, [it] creates uncertainty for their own lives, because they didn't know where they were moving. They worked like heck to make sure that we could have the facility, the home for soccer in this country, that we all can be proud of,” said Batson, who wiped away tears as he began his remarks.
“Players will now have uninterrupted access to elite infrastructure for training, development, rehabilitation, recovery, performance and analysis. But beyond this, you'll get a sense of consistency. Rather than meeting at different locations throughout the country – we sort of think of ourselves as a traveling circus or a pop-up shop – here will be one central location, dedicated 24/7 for national team training. As the global soccer community continues to get more competitive, this will be essential to continue to bring home trophies for the United States.”
"A once-in-a-generation moment"
It not only provides the national teams – all 27 of them – with a permanent home expected to feature a range of indoor and outdoor playing fields and state-of-the-art performance and educational facilities, but also entails a departure from Chicago, the fed’s administrative home for more than three decades.
While the timeline remains TBA, it’s possible the center could be far enough along for the men’s national team to begin putting it to use ahead of the North American World Cup in 2026 – “it’s only 1,000 days away,” noted MLS Commissioner Don Garber – where MBS will be one of the 16 host venues.
“We're not just erecting a building or a facility. This is a once-in-a-generation moment for soccer in the US,” said Parlow Cone. “Our goal is to capitalize on this excitement and investment to grow the game, build winning teams, grow the soccer economy and foster the best playing environments. Together, we will all transform soccer in our country, and Atlanta is the perfect place for us to embark on this work.”
Specific details of the NTC project remain scarce at this early stage. The federation is still scouting final locations, with two as-yet-unnamed sites to choose from. While undoubtedly a nine-figure undertaking, the price tag is still unspecified, aside from the revelation ATLUTD owner Arthur Blank will be contributing $50 million, with a significant amount of that earmarked for accessible facilities for the extended national teams, including the Cerebral Palsy (CP), Deaf, and Power Soccer sides.
“We want to make sure that we make that commitment to the U.S. Soccer Federation,” said Blank. “It's relatively easy to write a check. That's not the difficult part of it. The most difficult part of it, and the part of it that makes it the most fun, the part that makes it the most active and alive and most meaningful, is what we can do day in, day out.
“Cindy and JT, you think of ways that we can be here for you, and we're going to be here for you.”
Finally a world-class facility
The Home Depot co-founder also owns the NFL’s Falcons, among other sports properties, and his pride at helping put ATL on the soccer map was unmistakable.
“What they may not know is that when you start to dance with the gorilla, the dance isn’t over until the gorilla says to stop. And so they've chosen to dance with a gorilla in Atlanta, Atlanta United and the commitment that the state and this city has to soccer,” said Blank. “So we will be there in any way that we possibly can.”
Garber underlined the influence of Blank and Atlanta United in demonstrating the strength of a local soccer culture that wasn’t widely known until the club made its MLS debut in 2017 and immediately drew one of the league’s largest fanbases.
“Your pitch was that this is a city that represents the new America, an America that is just so diverse and so cultural, and that if we were to bring a team that represented that identity, that you would deliver. That you’d deliver a championship, that this stadium would become one of the great sports stadiums for our sport anywhere in the world. And it has become the place to be,” Garber said to Blank.
“We have been building soccer stadiums and building infrastructure for two and a half decades. But our national teams, our federation, that we think represents all that's great about our sport, has never had a place that they truly can call their own, until now,” Garber added. “This is one of the most important projects in the history of soccer in America. Our national teams at all levels will finally have a world-class facility that will represent the identity of what soccer in America can be, right here in one of the biggest and one of the most important cities in our country. This will have an impact on our sport for generations.”