Michael Parkhurst is a professional soccer veteran with more than 21,000 minutes logged and 240 appearances in MLS alone. He’s made several more in leagues in Europe.
So, when asked what he wants to see in Atlanta United’s new locker room at the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the team sees both for the first time Saturday, his answers are a little more pragmatic than expected:
“A comfortable seat. Easy access to cold pool. Easy access to the trainer’s room. Good water pressure.”
Parkhurst should be very, very happy.
Team owner Arthur Blank, club president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra, also a professional veteran, tried to make sure that anything a player could want is taken care of.
“Ultimately, there’s nowhere in the world like this stadium, and even the locker room shows that,” Eales said during a media tour Tuesday.
The rectangular locker room was designed to pay homage to some of those used by the biggest clubs in Europe, according to Eales. Instead of individual seats in front of each of the 28 lockers, the room has wide, bench-style seating, with soft, red cushions.
“Carlos tested them out to make sure they would fit the prima-donna player,” Eales joked.
The gray carpet features “ATLANTA” written in a lighter gray down the middle of the floor. There are TVs at either end.
The lockers were designed with help from the players, based upon what they have at the team’s training facility in Marietta. There are charging stations for phones and other electronic devices. There is a safe that the players can use to store valuables. There is a light above the closet space so that jerseys will be illuminated as the players walk in.
“It just has that feel that you’re coming into a soccer locker room,” Eales said.
The players likely will be seated in numerical jersey order around the space. That is how they are arranged at the team’s training facility. Parkhurst said it would be nice to sit as far from the toilets as possible.
At one end of the locker room is a trainer’s room and then a hydrotherapy room. The hydrotherapy pool was designed to be as big as the one in the Falcons’ locker room, which is on the other side of the stadium. Realizing that Atlanta United’s roster had fewer players, and its players are physically much smaller, than those who are on the Falcons, Eales was able to downsize the hydrotherapy pool.
That space and savings was used to construct a multi-use space built behind the other end of the locker room that the players can use for a pre-match meal 3 ½ hours before games. After the game, it can be turned into a family room for the players to meet their loved ones and/or significant others after the game. The room is borrowed from one used at Tottenham Hotspur, where Eales worked previously before joining Atlanta United.
“Trying to make the players feel special, and that they work hard and (after) want to be with their families,” Eales said.
Behind the locker room, between the ends housing the space for the trainer’s room and hydrotherapy room, and kit room and family room, are the bathrooms. There were no water-pressure tests during Tuesday’s media tour.
The manager’s office, and a kick room where the players can warm up before they take the field, are located on the same end as the family room. The kick room is something FIFA requires to host World Cup games, according to Eales.
“You just want to feel comfortable in your locker room,” said midfielder Carlos Carmona, another veteran who counts Wembley Stadium in London as the best locker room he’s ever been in because of its size and history of the venue. “You want it to be big enough to have space to warm up and recover after games. From the videos I’ve seen, it seems to me like they’ve thought of everything.”
That was the point, Eales said.
“Little touches make it easy for us with free agents, in a salary-cap environment, to try to attract those players,” Eales said. “(We want) players to want to go to Atlanta United because they do things right.”
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