Eales: Atlanta United to look for `home grown’ players

Darren Eales has played soccer his entire life, but the president of Atlanta United FC is currently in full construction mode.

Just one year before Arthur Blank’s new Major League Soccer team takes the field, Eales is in charge of stocking the team with players, constructing a headquarters in Marietta, and building the team’s fan base.

Atlanta United agreed to build its headquarters in Marietta after an initial agreement with DeKalb County fell apart because of unsuitable soil at the site. The Marietta city council approved a lease agreement with the team in January.

The team will spend about $50 million on its new headquarters and six lighted practice fields.

Speaking to about 500 members of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Monday morning, Eales said Atlanta United will make a specific effort to sign the best local players to the team, because it will help build the fan base and they won’t count against the team’s salary cap.

MLS teams have 26 roster positions, although each franchise also has a group of youth teams, or academies, that act as a farm system.

“We want to develop our own players from this area,” Eales said. “If they come from our club, they understand our style of play and our culture. So as we build a franchise, that’s important.”

Eales said the academy — five youth teams of different age groups with 20 players each — will train at the same facility as the professional players.

Eales said the facility will often be open to the public for practices, which is part of building the fan base.

“We want it to be very open. Contrast that with my time at Tottenham Hotspur,” where Eales worked as director of football operations for the Premier League team, he said. “That place was like Fort Knox. The only information you ever gave out was misinformation. So we’ll have set days where we have open training sessions.

“We want everyone to feel a part of us.”

Eales said the team has already secured 30,000 deposits from fans interested in buying season tickets. Atlanta United will play its games in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is under construction in downtown Atlanta.

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