After spotting a burgeoning, young global talent from South America, Atlanta United knew the player would be a key addition to their team. So they followed their normal plan of action after spotting a talent: Scouting further before entering negotiations.
Atlanta soon made up their mind that this was the player to take the club to the next level. Before the long, the club reached an agreement. Atlanta United announced 16-year-old Brazilian phenom Paulo Neto as the club's eMLS player for 2020, the No. 4 ranked PlayStation FIFA player in the world.
“There is a form of poetry there," ATL UTD vice president of business operations Catie Griggs admitted to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday.
Neto is debuting in eMLS at this weekend's League Series One tournament and comes with the big expectations as one of the world's top players, despite being in a loaded field with the likes of doolsta, NYC_Chris and more.
“Ironically, we first came in contact with Paulo at a FIFA global event in Atlanta in February, 2019," Griggs explained. "We were able to have exposure to him there, have the opportunity to speak to him. We liked what we saw. Effectively, it’s similar to seeking on-pitch talent: You’re scouting the person, knowing their strengths then figuring out what it would take to get a deal done. That same the process we followed with him."
While most clubs look in their own market for eMLS talent, Atlanta opted to do things differently in their second year. They identified great value in potential success in eMLS, which led to signing one of the world's top talents.
“There are two very pragmatic reasons," Griggs said. "One: There is a massive audience, particularly a younger audience that’s learning about soccer, MLS as a league and teams specifically through FIFA. It’s their gateway. For us, there’s a huge premium in having these people come into contact with our club, follow our club and play with our players.
"Two:" Griggs continued, "it’s good for brand recognition. I don’t think we’ve been particularly shy about our plans to be a top global brand and a top global soccer club. We want to see someone in an Atlanta kit to win the whole thing.”
Outside of the business metrics, though, is the club's basic desire to excel on all fronts.
“eMLS for us, really, falls in line with everything else we do," Griggs said. "Whether it’s on-pitch or fan experience, we want to be the best at everything we do. ... Why we wanted to do (sign Neto) is pretty straightforward: He’s one of the greatest global talents in the sport. That’s a no-brainer.”
It was also a no-brainer for Neto. The Brazilian has the chance to expand his own brand in a new market, on the big digital stage of eMLS.
“He was pumped," Griggs said. "Obviously, MLS is a growing and emerging league in global soccer and additionally it’s a massive commercial market. When we were talking to him about opportunities, he had the chance to come on board with a brand that’s growing in Atlanta United, and a market that’s growing in the world of soccer. It’s much broader exposure, we’re able to get him exposure in how to create content around this and build a brand. He didn’t take a lot of convincing, it’s something he’s excited to do and we’re excited to have him.”
In the competition, of course, Atlanta United have big expectations.
“It’s like anything: Our hope is that he wins," Griggs said. "That being said, it’s a new environment and experience, he’ll be learning how things go in eMLS. In our second season competing in eMLS, our hope is to put on a strong showing and we’d love to see someone in our kit win the whole thing.”