The team wants to move quickly to hire a manager because club president Darren Eales and vice president Carlos Bocanegra, and the players, believe that the team not only can make the playoffs but can make a run in the playoffs. The team has won two of its 13 games, but trails the seventh-place team by only four points. The top seven teams at season’s end qualify for the postseason.
Because Atlanta United usually has aimed pretty high with its past hires, I don’t think that Eales and Bocanegra will consider hiring a coach from a U.S. college, but they did say they would consider all qualified candidates.
Before you say, “Why would the team hire a college coach?”
Two reasons: Bruce Arena and Caleb Porter. Both came to MLS with backgrounds as successful college coaches. Both have won multiple MLS Cups.
And then you may ask, why would a player from South America or Europe listen to a coach with little experience coaching professionals. If that’s really the question, then perhaps the problem is the player’s and not the coach’s. And, I would point out some of Atlanta United’s players had problems with de Boer, who was one of the most decorated players in soccer history. That shouldn’t be the issue.
And lastly there is this: I think it can be argued that college coaches, more than the professionals, are excellent people-managers. They must recruit. They must work with the kids not only on soccer but their classes and developing into adults. People management is something that Brooks Lennon and Anton Walkes said they would like to see in the next manager.
I’m not advocating for any of these candidates, but I do think they are interesting:
Tony Annan, South Carolina. Remember him? Annan recently left Atlanta United as Academy Director and interim Atlanta United 2 manager and the metro area where he lived and which he helped develop into a soccer hotbed during the previous 20-plus years. He knows Atlanta United. He knows the culture. He knows the players. He knows MLS. Plus, if you haven’t noticed, Atlanta United seems to be having more success developing its homegrowns and draft picks than it does its traditional signings. Who do you think oversaw the development of George Bello, George Campbell, Tyler Wolff, Machop Chol, Efrain Alvarez, Bryce Washington and Jackson Conway? That’s right. Annan. Tactically, he may not have the big-game experience of the club managers that Atlanta United may consider, but Annan has more licenses than a tri-state doctor. He’s a smart dude. Oh, and if you don’t know, he managed an Academy team to Atlanta United’s very first trophy.
Chris Grassie, Marshall. Would be remiss not to include the coach of the reigning national champs. First at Charleston and then at Marshall, Grassie developed those programs into winners with attacking soccer and solid defense. His career record is 144-44-18. That’s amazing. During the 2020 title-winning season, Marshall outscored opponents 30-8 and outshot foes 272-118.
Bobby Muuss, Wake Forest. Like Annan, Muuss is a coach who knows how to develop players into professionals. Chol is one of those players. Since taking over the program in 2015, 23 of his players have signed professional contracts with MLS teams. Plus, he is sound tactically. The team has won two ACC tournament titles and qualified for the NCAA tournament every year and made it to the Round of 16 six consecutive years. Wake Forest’s 102 wins in five years under Muuss are the most in Division I. He’s been named ACC coach of the year four times.
Mike Noonan, Clemson. A proven winner at several colleges, most notably Brown and Clemson, he has 348 wins and produced 27 MLS draftees. He has kept Clemson as a national power in soccer and is noted for his all-around approach to athlete development.
Jay Vidovich, Pittsburgh. Vidovich is the coach who established Wake Forest as a soccer program in his 21 years there and then did so again at Pitt. That ability to build from the ground up could be important for Atlanta United, which has won only eight of its past 36 games. He’s a six-time coach of the year in the ACC, and twice was named national coach of the year. He has shown an ability to adapt tactics to the roster, which is something that Martino and de Boer did and Heinze did not. He has won with offense or defense. He also has coached in the USL with Portland’s franchise. He has produced 21 All-Americans and more than 35 players who have signed professional contracts.
Southern Fried Soccer
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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule
April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0
April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1
May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1
May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,
May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0
May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1
May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2
June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2
June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0
June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0
July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0
July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2
July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0
July 21 at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., FS1
July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC
July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN
Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE