Since entering the league in 2017, Atlanta United has made three appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs -- and will be making its fourth on Nov. 21. It’s earned the third-highest point total in Major League Soccer. It’s the only team to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League three years in a row. In 2019, it became the first MLS team to win Campeones Cup.
Atlanta United’s introduction to MLS has been monumental. The club has quickly flourished into a league leader, setting a standard of consistent success and electric play, and becoming a model for expansion clubs to emulate. The list of trophies and accolades is long, engendering a winning criterion truly distinctive for a club only five years old.
The elite example, the on-the-pitch flair, the pursuit of glory – all of it was formed under Carlos Bocanegra’s leadership.
And for that reason, all those achievements, Atlanta United is ensuring Bocanegra remains part of the club’s long-term future. On Monday, the club announced that Bocanegra signed a contract extension that will keep him in Atlanta for the next several years.
"We’re building a legacy at Atlanta United, one that sets the standard for the rest of the league, that’s committed to pushing the sport forward not just here but around the world,” Bocanegra said. “And I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Bocanegra has played a significant role at Atlanta United since the club’s inception. He started as Technical Director of the club in 2015 and was promoted in 2017 to his current role as Vice President and Technical Director.
“At the time, I felt this was going to be a great fit,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of a successful organization as well as give myself the best chance to be successful.”
And he’s certainly done that. During his time, Atlanta United entered the league in 2017. In its first season, Atlanta made the MLS Cup Playoffs. The following season in 2018, it won MLS Cup and then won Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2019, making Atlanta the only MLS team to win both since the club joined the league.
When President Darren Eales brought on Bocanegra in 2015, the two shared a vision. They dug in and determined what type of style they wanted for their new club. They envisioned a team that could play on the front foot in a way that produced a high-paced style of soccer. Their aim was to create a product that was exciting and electric.
From there, Bocanegra took their vision and applied it to the team’s construction. He determined what player qualities could help their vision come to life. He looked for those traits in his scouting and created a player profile that became the direction the club has taken ever since when it scouts talent, signs prospects and builds its roster.
The profile: a fun, fast, attacking player. A player who, when the ball comes to his feet, makes people in the stands get on theirs and pay a little more attention.
“We wanted to bring in a little more flair, a little more excitement,” Bocanegra said. “We wanted to bring in younger players, who aren’t yet household names, who maybe are on the brink of becoming that. And we’re very fortunate with our fan base and our popularity that we can build and create stars here.”
Those stars include a slew of young, exciting players: Josef Martínez, Miguel Almirón, Tito Villalba, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Luiz Araújo, the team’s latest addition who Bocanegra scouted and signed in August.
Each of these players fit the profile that Bocanegra made and instituted at Atlanta United: players a step away from stardom who can play a fun, fast and attacking brand of soccer. The profile molded the club’s identity, and to this day, is the type of player Bocanegra and his staff go after.
The player profile also guided the decisions Bocanegra makes. It’s why in August he and Eales hired Gonzalo Pineda to be their head coach. Pineda was someone who understood the vision they shared when the club was built. He’s embraced the club’s values and has committed to the attacking style of play that Bocanegra aspires Atlanta United to embody.
“It’s all about what’s the best intention, for the club, the fan base, and the city,” Bocanegra said. “Every conversation we have is about how we can make Atlanta United the premier club in MLS and the United States.”
Atlanta United fans have welcomed the players Bocanegra has brought in, which in turn has led to the club’s affable relationship with its city. The team continues to lead the league in home attendance and set records in season ticket sales, single-game attendance and single-season average attendance.
“We’ve done an excellent job locally and regionally, reaching out and connecting to fans in Atlanta,” Bocanegra said. “And we’re going to make sure they have a good experience.”
The club will continue to value its relationship to its home city. But Bocanegra is also looking further. What if the club can bring more people in? What would it be like to see Atlanta United kits on retail stands in countries like England or Mexico or Sudan? How can Atlanta United be included in the global conversations alongside some of soccer’s major and most popular brands?
Bocanegra believes, with how rapidly MLS is changing, that Atlanta United could be on its way there.
“I think that dedication to everyone in the sport – coaches, players, trainers, parents, kids – how do we continue to have soccer be their number one choice?” he said. “Getting more exposure will continue to drive the sport forward. And that will catch us up and get us very near.”
The National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and former captain of the U.S. men’s national soccer team already knows what it takes to build a product on the field into one that can equate to others around the world. He has his eyes on the U.S. hosting the World Cup in 2026 and understands the significant impact that hosting a worldwide event in American cities like Atlanta will have on growing the sport of soccer:
“You see this next generation of players here playing in America, like Miles Robinson, who are going in and starting for their national teams,” he said. “We’re really raising the bar here. Off the field, we’re definitely the leaders in the industry. So it’s more about how do we continue to develop that on-the-field product.”
Atlanta United has already attained so much success. And the standard will continue to be that of competing for championships and trophies, which it has proven this year by making a push in the second half of the season to clench its fourth berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
But Bocanegra is thinking bigger, and the next phase of his tenure at Atlanta United will be about making efforts to achieve that:
“We’re really trying to cement ourselves as the premiere club in MLS and striving to become a global brand.”