Hello, Atlanta. Home sweet home.
Those were the words President of the U.S. Soccer Federation Cindy Parlow Cone spoke to open the press conference last weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to Atlanta United’s 5-2 win over Inter Miami CF. The president’s words are now too the words of the U.S. Soccer Federation. On September 15, U.S. Soccer announced it will be moving its headquarters to Atlanta, Ga.
“I could not be more excited about what this means for soccer in our country,” Parlow Cone said. “This will take soccer to a whole new level, and it will also allow us to reinvest in the grassroots and increase access to our game and actually just grow our game at every level.”
The press conference marks what the president called a joyful time with the news that U.S. Soccer will build their headquarters and first-ever national training center right here in Atlanta. The training center will be utilized by all 27 U.S. national soccer teams. Leaders of the project, Parlow Cone and U.S. Soccer CEO and Secretary General J.T. Batson represented U.S. Soccer. Among those on hand to welcome them included Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Atlanta United CEO and President Garth Lagerwey, Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director and former U.S. men’s national team member Carlos Bocanegra, and Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank.
This endeavor was made possible by a generous contribution from Blank, owner of Atlanta United and the Atlanta Falcons. The philanthropist and co-founder of The Home Depot contributed $50 million to support the new national training center and expand opportunities across the soccer ecosystem. His grant is certainly impactful to this plan coming to fruition, but Blank emphasized that the part that involved writing a check was relatively easy. The most difficult part, which will also be the most fun and most meaningful, is the work that will be done day in and day out to see the plan come to life.
“It’s really an opportunity to host U.S. Soccer Federation here,” Mr. Blank said. “We couldn’t be prouder about our commitment and our affiliation. We’ll look forward to ways that we can take our current commitment and take it to another level and another level and another level… we’re pleased to make sure everybody at the U.S. Soccer Federation knows and feels that Atlanta is their home going forward.”
According to Batson, a Georgia native and former tech executive, his group has been actively engaged in the Atlanta market over the past year, scouting locations for a potential building site. Though no location has been confirmed, the most important prerequisites for the site include a lot of space, a couple hundred acres of land, and proximity to the airport.
“We’re excited about a lot of options that we’ve seen here,” Batson said “Everyone we’ve met with has been very welcoming, very supportive and really trying to bring this project to life. We’re actively working here, almost on a weekly basis, to determine the right home, and we look forward to be able to announce that as soon as possible.”
The timeline hasn't yet been formed, but there is a lingering date in everyone’s minds that some might expect to be a reason to prioritize this project: The FIFA World Cup will be coming to U.S. soil in 2026. Atlanta was one of 16 cities selected to host.
While Parlow Cone said that the goal is to make this happen as fast as possible, the president also set realistic expectations for construction.
“We have a lot of steps and we have to get there,” she said. “I mean, we don’t even have a shovel in the ground right now. So once we put a shovel in the ground, hopefully we can give you guys a better idea of the timeline. But we want it as soon as possible.”
Several members of Atlanta United’s parent company AMBSE contributed to the project and were also in attendance at the press conference. Fay Twersky, director of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, assisted with writing the grant proposal. AMBSE Vice Chairman Steve Cannon connected with U.S. Soccer at a crucial moment, according to this anecdote described by Parlow Cone:
“Taking on a project like this, there are many ups and downs, and there was a moment where I thought it was all going to fall through and this wasn’t going to actually happen. I made a phone call to Steve Cannon. He jumped in and immediately started helping us and resuscitated this project.”
Atlanta United partnered alongside MLS to make this opportunity happen. It started with a phone call, a little over a year ago, from MLS commissioner Don Garber. He called Blank to discuss this opportunity. The two men have a longstanding history and worked extensively together to bring Atlanta United in MLS in 2014. In fact, when talking about Garber, Blank referenced the 1972 movie The Godfather. He said that Garber has served, in some ways, as a consigliere. Someone Blank trusted to guide him through this process with U.S. Soccer.
“That’s really what Don Garber has been to me on our journey in soccer,” Blank said. “He has been my mentor, my advisor, my counselor, my source of wisdom, my source of guidance and that includes not only Atlanta United and MLS but includes heavily the U.S. Soccer Federation.”
Parlow Cone, who played professionally in Atlanta as a member of the WUSA team the Atlanta Beat in the early 2000s, spoke highly of the city. The former U.S. national forward said she loved her time with the Atlanta Beat and that although she lives in North Carolina, Atlanta has quickly become her second home over the past two years while trying to work on this project.
“We did a pretty robust search for a facility,” she said. “We looked at a number of different locations all over the U.S. And when we landed on Atlanta, I think JT [Batson] and I were both pretty excited... we’re both excited that it’s here, we’re excited to call it home.”
“To know what Arthur Blank and Atlanta United have done with soccer in the city, not just from the professional team, but all the work they’ve done in the community. We want to partner with them and help to grow that and experiment and see what we can extrapolate and put to scale across the rest of the country.”
The culture in Atlanta is booming. The mayor alluded to the city celebrating the 50th year of hip-hop over the past month with the release of Atlanta United’s 404 Kit along with events and concerts such as Music Midtown. And soccer is booming along with it. More than 70,000 supporters were in attendance at the venue where the press conference was held, creating an incredible atmosphere for both U.S. Soccer and supporters to watch Atlanta United earn a big win. In just a few years, the city will host the largest global soccer competition when the FIFA World Cup comes to Atlanta in 2026. And now, the national team will be able to call Atlanta their home.
Perhaps Mayor Dickens summarized it best:
“When it comes to soccer in the United States, the South’s got something to say.”