Before Atlanta United’s technical staff entered the appropriate timeframe to sign players to the club’s inaugural roster, the supplemental departments surrounding the first team needed to be put into motion.
Areas of specialization including sports science, scouting and technical analysis needed to take root before the club could court players to Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team. Technical director Carlos Bocanegra, the man responsible for lining up those departments, along with president Darren Eales and director of soccer operations Paul McDonough, shared a vision that began with Atlanta United’s academy.
“We tried to do a top-down strategy,” Bocanegra said. “We started with the first team, and then it goes down. But in reality, our academy was set up six months ahead of our first team. What we tried to do was implement our processes that we wanted to do for the first team, and we almost got to test it out with the academy.”
Atlanta United’s academy and its affiliation with United Soccer League team Charleston Battery were also put in place earlier than any expansion team in MLS history. The idea was to experiment how the first team would function, and implement processes that would remain with the academy and USL team so all aspects of the organization would grow together.
Once Bocanegra joined Atlanta United in April 2015, he aimed to have all of the club’s ancillary pieces up and running by summer of 2016.
“The main part was making sure we had medical, sports performance, scouting department, academy, first team, our USL affiliate – all of that had to be merged into one and keep it with the vertical integration so it’s the same from top to bottom.”
One example of the implementation process can be seen in the club’s player profile system. Bocanegra and his staff presented the academy with their process of identifying players so when the academy is recruiting players, their characteristics fall in line with the players who sign with the senior roster.
The player identification process has manifested in the signings of five academy players: Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, followed by George Bello, Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo.
“We feel the academy is so important that we wanted to set that up and get it running before our first team was playing,” Bocanegra said. “It’s helped us out tremendously. You already see kids signed to the first team. They are doing a great job down there and hopefully we can have a few more kids. We’re very fortunate with the state of Georgia and Atlanta in general. We’re very much a product of our environment and that’s how we like to look at players and the type of player we want to bring in.”
Along with scouting local academy players, the technical staff needed to arrange a global scouting network. Through Bocanegra’s ties in Europe from his playing days and Eales’ connections from his time as an executive with Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur, Atlanta United was able to build had an extensive scouting department. This, too, can be seen in the high number of international players on Atlanta’s roster.
“It’s a lot about using contacts,” Bocanegra said. “We have scouts that we put around the globe and will travel for us, but we also do a lot of it ourselves. Paul and I will go out quite often, and Darren will go out as well with us. It’s a global game and I think everybody who is involved in soccer at the highest level, whether you’re watching through video, you’re out there yourself or you’re employing people that are around the world, you have to do that because there’s always something out there and somebody is going to try to get that next player ahead of you. It’s very important to have a global network.”
Each department in Atlanta United’s technical operations came to fruition in summer 2016. Upon the hiring of head coach Gerardo Martino in Sept. 2016, the organization’s global footprint expanded and the senior roster was completed during preseason.
As the team sets out to make history in its inaugural season, the club as a whole proceeds with the confidence of a strong foundation aimed at sustainable success.