Atlanta brass hope to see SuperDraft picks take advantage of unique chance

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – For Atlanta United FC, their two first round picks in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft find themselves in a unique position compared to most MLS rookies.

Joining a club that’s yet to have its first training camp, new rookies find themselves in a completely wide-open proving ground. And in addition to showing what they can do on the field, they will also have a role to play in growing the expansion team's burgeoning culture as well.

“When we were going through the draft selection,” said technical director Carlos Bocanegra, “and you meet with the players individually, you want to obviously first and foremost [produce] on the field.

“But we want them to be good kids as well, good human beings, because we want to be out in the community, representing Atlanta United. Inside our locker room, when we’re building the culture, what are they like as teammates? Are they selfish, about me-me-me, or are they team players?”

It’s a complicated balance that Atlanta is managing where all incoming players also have to be thought of as brand ambassadors as they go about building roots in not only the city and surrounding community, but within MLS as well.

As a result it wasn’t just soccer that first-round draft picks Miles Robinson and Julian Gressel were quizzed on. For instance, they were also asked about their knowledge of Atlanta’s rap scene.

“I know Migos are from Atlanta,” said Robinson. “I know they have a great culture down there, I’m excited to get down there.”

Robinson also said he had some cousins in Atlanta, but wasn’t too familiar with the city itself. For German-born Gressel, it’ll certainly be an adventure. It’s new territory both literally and musically.

“I’m not a big rap guy,” said Gressel, “but maybe I’ll get more into it moving down there.”

Gressel is someone who showed well at the Combine with crunching tackles, but Bocanegra sees him more as an attacking midfielder. Atlanta United has already signed two attacking internationals as Designated Players in Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba, so he’ll have plenty of competition as Atlanta begin their training camp and finalize their roster.

With two more rounds of the MLS SuperDraft still to come, and 22 of 28 roster spots filled, Atlanta have to continue work on bringing a few more key pieces into place. While both Bocanegra and President Darren Eales didn’t want to comment on players currently under contract elsewhere, they admitted that new signings will have to come quickly.

“We’ve got a few more pieces,” said Bocanegra. “We should be announcing a couple hopefully [this weekend]. We’re almost there.”

Both draft picks will want to make an impact as soon as possible, but as they aren’t trying to fit into an already existing depth chart the pressure to meet a need for the squad is lessened. Both players will be given an opportunity to mature and grow under head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s guidance.

“Talking about the rookies,” said Eales, “you can’t expect them to come in and straight away expect to be starting. What you have got with us is a team that is brand new so no one’s got that position. We haven’t got a center half pairing that’s been playing the last five years.

“Miles [Robinson] and Julian [Gressel], if they work really hard and impress the manager they’ve got as good a chance as anybody. Tata [Martino] is the kind of coach that will play who he thinks are the best eleven just based on their performance in training, not how much they’re getting paid, or where they’ve played before.”