Atlanta United held its season-ending media session on Monday at the training ground in Marietta.
Over the next few days, I’ll post a few stories from interviews with Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra and players Michael Parkhurst, Brad Guzan, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba, Julian Gressel and Miguel Almiron.
Here is an excerpt from Bocanegra’s session following the team’s inaugural season:
“Looking back to building the team and to where we are now, we are very pleased with what we were able to accomplish on the field. Off the field as well, with the community the fanbase we’ve been able to have.
“Being an expansion team we knew was going to be tough but we set high aspirations for ourselves. We were able to accomplish getting into the playoffs. We were able to get our team to gel and come along quickly, formulate a team quickly. We fell a little bit short as far as we wanted to make a deeper playoff run. But we don’t want that to tarnish what a great season it was for us.
“Overall, we were happy, we were pleased with it, but it left everyone wanting more and wanting to go further in the playoffs and bring a championship back here. That shouldn’t discredit what’s been done here. I think that we should note that in preseason that we didn’t have a home base like this. We moved a lot of places. We were in Florida, we were up in Flowery Branch, we trained here, we were in a hotel, and a big credit to the guys, the coaching staff, everybody in the club that really pulled their weight to make sure everything could go properly onto the field and give our guys the best chance to gel as quickly as possible and put it out there on the field.
“From Bobby Dodd over to the new stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we are looking forward to getting stronger and kicking off next year and going for a deeper playoff run.”
Here’s more from the interview:
Q. What position groups would you like to strengthen?
A. It’s more depth for us. We were very excited with how we were able to perform. You look at a team like Toronto where they’ve been able over the course of 8-9 years been able to build a team that has depth.
That’s always the challenge for a first-year team. Being able to utilize players from our academy, we will have five Homegrown players next year signed to a first-team contract, those guys will be pushing through and have another year under their belt.
It’s really trying to get depth. We scored 70 goals. Our attack was fantastic. We ended up finishing with the third-best defense in the league. Our goal-differential was quite good, plus-30. It’s not like we need to blow this thing up. It’s trying to create competition at a few positions and really just trying to get some depth all over the field.
Q. You focused on youth, but did the U.S. recent failure to qualify for the World Cup, and everyone focusing on the next generation, does that change your thinking at all, even trying to speed it up even more?
A. I think the U.S. not qualifying for the World Cup has brought a lot of things to the forefront, brought it to the limelight.
I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job in the country of finding ways to develop players.
Are we doing everything right? No. Is there room for improvement? Yes, there is. Now it’s how do we expedite that situation?
Implementing the Developmental Academy years ago, all MLS teams have academies, different showcases, different international tournaments, we are looking for competitions. At the U.S. Soccer level, they are looking for different programming as far as high performance, sports science.
All these different areas that they’ve been doing in the background is really going to shine a light on, ‘Hey, let’s push this to the front, this is the most important thing right now,’ because developing players, developing coaches, we’ve been talking about it for a long time. It’s just that’s one of the biggest challenges in the country. Now we’ve got to really put a light on that and bring it forward and say, ‘Let’s do this now.’
Q. What’s the biggest lesson you learned that you will apply to year 2, 3, and 4?
A. When we were able to build this club we had a vision. We wanted to be competitive in Year 1 and then from then on be a part of the conversation every year. Are they a championship team? That was our main goal.
We go out and get players like Tito Villalba, types of players who are athletic, fast, durable that can play the style we had envisioned for the club.
We were able to go and get Tata (Gerardo Martino), a manager who can implement that style of play: on the front foot, attacking, high-press, high tempo and then we had this unbelievable fan base of 11,000, 13,000, 15,000 what are we up to 38,000 season-ticket holders now. (Note: there are more than 36,000 season-ticket holders).
It all just starting to build and come together.
Next year we feel very poised to strengthen a few spots here and there. We have an unbelievable fan base behind us, an unbelievable atmosphere. Every player that comes and plays, and coaching staff, talks about how amazing this atmosphere is playing at Mercedes-Benz and even Bobby Dodd, to be fair, as well. They really like the trip out here.
I know the league is very pleased with what’s going on.
We would like to strengthen in a few spots. We would like to challenge for championships now. That’s why we are here.
We have a fantastic infrastructure. Arthur (Blank) has given us these awesome resources with a training facility like this, the stadium, the guys, and ourselves are provided with every chance to be successful.
Now, going forward, it’s about going forward and bringing championships back to the city.