ATLANTA -- “It’s been almost two years to the day when we announced that we’re bringing Major League Soccer to Atlanta,” Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank said at the official unveiling of the plans for his team’s new training facility on Monday. “We’ve come a long way.”
But the work is not yet done.
Since MLS announced Atlanta would be home to an expansion team, Blank and his team at Atlanta United have been working feverishly to launch an expansion side from scratch.
A key focus for Blank and his team in 2016 has been on building a youth academy system. Both Blank and club president Darren Eales pointed out that Atlanta United is set to become one of the first MLS sides in history to have their youth academy teams begin play before the first team.
“Youth development is a key part of our club” said Eales. “The quicker we start the quicker we can hope to develop those Homegrown players”
The club took a big step towards doing that recently when they announced Richard Money as their new academy director. Money has deep experience as a player, manager, and academy chief in England, and yet he also admitted to his new team having “some challenges ahead, that’s for sure.”
Experienced local youth coach Tony Annan was recently named academy manager, and Money said at Monday’s event that they are close to signing additional coaches.
Atlanta United hope to announce their head coach will be sometime in late summer or early fall, but the exact timing is difficult to pinpoint. “We’re dealing in a situation where we’re in a world game,” said Eales, “and there’s different timings for different leagues.”
On the player recruitment front, Money and his team are taking a comprehensive approach.
“It’s a two-pronged attack really,” he said. “At the top end, we’re going for those that we think have potential in the short term. And at the bottom end, it’s those who we think we have potential to take through the pathway but also to create a bigger base of young players that we think may have the opportunity for Atlanta in the future.”
Money said he found the team’s first identification sessions, hosted around metro Atlanta over the last few weeks, to be “very encouraging.” The team invited around 100 youth players per age group, and from there they’ll narrow things down to around 40 players who will attend the Atlanta United invitational tryouts in May.
In the end, around 20 players will be selected to play for Atlanta United at different age levels (U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, and U-18) in the Development Academy. Once the initial rosters are finalized, the academy teams will practice and play at a temporary site until the new training facility is ready in January 2017.