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. You can read the first part here. Here is part two of the extended interview:
Besides winning as many games as you can, what’s a success for you for the first year of ATL UTD 2?
Success is improving our players, whether it’s our top Homegrown prospects that have come all the way through the club, or the guys with more pro experience under their belt. It’s improving those players, adding something to their game, aiding in their maturation, giving them valuable game minutes as a professional, and getting them closer to being able to help the first team. That’s in essence what it is, helping the club as the in-between stage between the academy and the first team. And being a part of the pyramid, being a support for all the club’s goals at large.
What are some of the matches you have circled on the calendar this year?
We have a difficult road in a way, because the East is a really strong conference. Some of the regional rivalries will be fun for the fans. So you have Charleston, Charlotte and Nashville all nearby, and that will all grow organically among the fans. For us as a first year team, you don’t have that dyed-in-the-wool traditional rivalries yet, because we mostly play different teams than who the first team plays. But those will develop as well because we see a lot of those teams two or three times over the course of the year. Those will develop after we have a close game, or a really competitive game or we take a result and they take one and the third one is up in the air.
What are your impressions of Coolray Field?
So far so good. We’ve been over there, we’ve seen the setup, walked the field with the grounds crew and we know how the set up is going to be. I think it’s a good venue because it brings our club to a whole new group of people in Gwinnett County. And there’s the human element: we’ve met the guys who take care of the field every week, and I think they take a lot of care with what they do. We’ve seen the field markings, where the fans will be in relation to the field, so that’s great. Everything seems to be in line, and we’re just excited to hopefully play in front of a lot of fans. The fan support will make it a great venue, so we’re really just hoping we get lots of people to come see what we can do.
NY Red Bulls II is coming up this week, a franchise that has used USL effectively for their first team in recent years. What can the team learn from them?
The Red Bulls as a franchise, just by being around longer than us, have had a longer runway to build their second team. Their second team has been around for a number of years, they have a good youth development model and they use Red Bull II as a place to bring some of those guys through. I think they’ve probably been the most effective, league-wide, as far as giving their young players a lot of minutes to be able to go then try to help the first team. You can look at them and see a guy like Tyler Adams or Aaron Long in their first team, who played a lot in USL. They’ve used it as a proving ground, which is really how we see ATL UTD 2. It’s a proving ground and a place for the huge amount of talent that Atlanta has and our academy has helped produce to come cut their teeth and prove they have what it takes as a pro.
This weekend specifically, what threats do they pose as a team?
They’re experienced. A lot of their players have a lot of minutes in USL and that will be a challenge for our players who don’t have as much experience. They’re always a pretty aggressive, dynamic team that plays fast and is good in transitions, and I’d venture to guess they’ll be a strong team in the league this year. For us it’s a great first test to see how our guys react. Not only what happens on the field, but also the atmosphere, how our guys handle an experienced team. So, everything surrounding the game but also how they handle what happens on the field when the whistle goes.
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.