Ahead of ATL UTD 2's inaugural match, head coach Scott Donnelly sat down with ATLUTD.com to discuss his vision for the team, his style and what he expects out of the team's opening season. Here is part one of the extended interview:
You’ve been in Atlanta for a few months now, how are you settling in?
It’s good, I haven’t seen as much of it as I’d like yet, but it’s been great. As a coach, you kind of live your work –– it’s more of a lifestyle than a job, and that’s how I’ve always been. But the atmosphere has been great with the team, and those relationships and the day-to-day is what you love about the job. That’s all been great.
You moved here from U.S. Soccer, what about the club made you want to make the jump to ATL UTD 2?
It was the quality of Atlanta United as a club and how they were doing things. The ambition of the club overall was a big part of it. Not just the club itself, but also the leadership and the relationships I had there. And then it was a great chance for me personally to put my experiences to the test in a way, and to use my expertise in developing players in an environment where I could see the work help the club at large - ATL UTD 2 as well as the first team, and pass the right guys on.
What’s your favorite part of being a coach?
It’s the builder mentality. You have this idea of what it should look like, and you work on it every day. You refine it, you build it layer by layer and you have an influence over every part of it. Then when it comes to fruition, whether it’s a player making the jump to the first team or if it’s the team having a good performance, all the things you invested time on coming to fruition is a great feeling. It makes all your work and investment worthwhile. It’s that building day by day with an eye toward what it eventually should look like.
You came from outside of USL, what is your perception coming into it?
I know quite a bit about the league, the soccer world is small in that way. It’s a league that’s grown rapidly, and I think that’s because they’ve made some really good decisions. They’ve brought some good franchises in, they’ve invested in the right areas as a league. It’s a great league for our team to play in, and it’s a great platform for these young players to show what they have.
It’s an interesting league as well as a development platform. You have a team like ours which is part of the Atlanta United structure, and we have many younger, developing players along with a few individuals with more pro experience. But you’re going up against teams week to week that are independent, where the players are in their prime trying to get their next contract and put food on the table. You have this nice mixture where you have two types of teams. So it’s a great challenge for our guys to both improve week to week but also be tested. It’s not only about whether you’re becoming a better player and developing, it’s also whether you can execute and perform when the chips are down. That’s hugely important if they’re going to make the jump to the first team.
You brought in Rob Valentino as your Assistant Coach. What did you see in him that you thought he could bring to the club?
Rob has a lot of experience as both player and as a coach in the league, and he has experience with youth development. I also had a lot of great references as far as his integrity, his work ethic, just who he is as a person, so he’s a natural fit between my experiences and his.
How much communication is there between your team and Tata Martino in the first team?
Whenever a player has played for us, even during the preseason, we go back and give the first-team coaches a status report. How the player did, their minutes from a physical standpoint but then also where they played, how they played, what they did well and what they can improve on. We always go back to them with that information.
Tata has a pretty balanced approach. As opposed to him coming to us and saying “this player has to play these minutes,” he tells us who the players are that will be with us for this game or this week. Then he trusts our staff to do right by those guys. Whether it’s players returning from injury, keeping them in rhythm with good minutes or keeping them sharp in training. The communication has flowed pretty easily. We have a group technical meeting every week led by Carlos Bocanegra, who sets the technical standards for us as well. It’s great because Tata obviously has had really big experiences as a coach, coaching some of the world’s biggest teams and players. But also he’s just a good person who wants to utilize our team for the right reasons in the right ways. He also gives us autonomy about how we do that. He, Carlos and the club has that trust in us.
What’s your message to the fans for this year?
Please come out! We’re going to be better for it if we have the fans behind us. They’re going to help bring intensity and atmosphere to the stadium and help some of our young players feel comfortable and confident and hungry on the field. We see the fans as a huge part of what we’re doing, both as a club and ATL UTD 2 specifically. We hope they’re behind us because it will help us play well, win games and have positive results. And what we’re going to try to do is bring the same style of play the club is known for –– exciting, attacking, aggressive play –– up to Gwinnett County and try to be a version of the first team. We don’t have the same guys but we want to play in the same way and challenge ourselves in that way.
ATL UTD 2 kicks off their inaugural season this Saturday, March 24th against New York Red Bulls II. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you click here to reserve your spot and make sure you're there for the historic day.