Atlanta United begins a most important year

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Atlanta United begins a most important year

Top 10 games games to watch

Here are some interesting games to watch via any number of broadcast or streaming services:

Friday

5:30 p.m., Panama vs. Cuba (Univision Deportes): This is a qualifying playoff game for the Copa America Centenario.

8:30 p.m., Queretaro vs. Atlas (Univision Deportes): The Clausura portion of the LIGA MX schedule begins Friday with this game.

Saturday

10 a.m., Barcelona vs. Granada (beIN Sports USA): There are rumblings that either Lionel Messi or Neymar could be in their final seasons at Camp Nou. Watch their magic while you can.

10 a.m., Arsenal vs. Sunderland in the FA Cup (Fox Sports 1): The Gunners are atop England’s Premier League and are also the defending FA Cup champs. Is there a double on the horizon?

12:30 p.m., Manchester United vs. Sheffield United in the FA Cup (Fox Sports 1): A win last weekend took some of the heat off Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, but a loss to Sheffield United, which only a few years ago was in the Premier League but is currently two levels below in League One, would turn the burner up full blast.

2:30 p.m., Real Madrid vs. Deportivo de La Coruna (beIN Sports USA): Real Madrid’s Rafa Benitez was reportedly fired as Real’s manager on Monday. He was replaced by Zinedine Zidane. Deportivo trails Real by 10 points in the Primera Division table.

2:45 p.m., Roma vs. Milan (beIN Sports connect): This is arguably the game of the week in world soccer. Roma is fifth in Serie A with 32 points while Milan is sixth with 28. Both teams feature a few players that could move during the ongoing transfer window or the upcoming summer window.

6 p.m., America vs. Puebla (Univision Deportes): America finished a disappointing sixth in the Apertura portion of the Liga MX schedule, while Puebla finished seventh.

Sunday

11 a.m., Tottenham vs. Leicester City in the FA Cup (Fox Sports 1): This will be an interesting game because both teams have their eye on winning the Premier League. Absent that, winning the FA Cup would also be a nice prize. This is also a candidate for game of the week in world soccer.

2:30 p.m., Celta Vigo vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports connect): Atletico is atop the Primera Division, two points ahead of Barcelona, which will play on Saturday. Celta will be a tough opponent.

Atlanta United is in the early days of what may be considered the most important year in the expansion MLS team’s history.

President Darren Eales, technical director Carlos Bocanegra and director of soccer operations Paul McDonough have a long list of things to accomplish, starting with developing or focusing plans for how they will approach the 2017 MLS Combine by attending this year’s event in Ft. Lauderdale. The combine will be held Thursday-Tuesday.

The following week is the draft, which will be held Jan. 14 in Baltimore. Atlanta will make its first pick in team history in the 2017 draft, almost certainly selecting a player who will be invited to participate in the 2017 combine.

There’s also an academy coach to hire, a training ground to build, a scouting network to build or evaluate, thousands of players worldwide to discuss, marketing plans to hammer out, uniform combinations to approve….and that’s just a few of the more obvious things.

Once a week over the next several weeks, portions of an interview with Eales held in December will run in the AJC Soccer Insider and will cover various topics that the team must accomplish during the pending year before it begins play in 2017.

This week will focus on the hiring of the director for the team’s youth academy. Questions and answers have been edited and in some cases paraphrased for brevity and clarity.

Q: When will the academy director be hired?

A: We will look to hire early in 2016, get the person in and then gear up on youth coaches, sports science and medical in summer 2016.

Q: How many youth teams will they oversee?

A: Five teams, ages 18, 16, 14, 13, 12. Each will have a head coach and assistant coach, plus support staff of sports science, medical and administration. It will be roughly 15 people.

Carlos will oversee it and the director will run the academy.

Q: What should be the background of the person hired to run the academy?

A: I want a proven track record in developing players. I’d like someone who is strong as a c coach/educator, strong coaching background because they will be coaching our coaches.

As I’ve said, this will be a beacon for other youth clubs in the area to learn from. We want to drive the standard of coaching in the whole state.

Q: What will be on their resume?

A: Top coaching badges. An ability to develop players, not just purely coaching, but will take a holistic view of it of not just the pitch, but teach lifestyle skills, and can spot talent. It’s very important to have a pathway, ‘How do I take him from talented 15 years old to Atlanta United?’

They will be organizing the academy. It’s someone who is going to be running it like a business unit. They are going to need that managerial skill as well.

Combine time: The MLS combine will begin on Thursday in Ft. Lauderdale. The combine will last until Tuesday. The draft will be held in Baltimore on Jan. 14.

There are two Atlanta natives, Mitchell Lurie and Jordan McCrary, who will participate in the combine. I’ll have a story about them running later this week.

Here are a few mock drafts for you to peruse if you would like to get an idea what type of player Atlanta United may select next year.

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