Paul McDonough brings the unique experience to Atlanta United as director of soccer operations of having already gone through taking one club into Major League Soccer when he was at Orlando City, where he was general manager.
Working with club president Darren Eales, technical director Carlos Bocanegra and soon with manager Gerardo Martino, McDonough is applying the good and needs-improvement lessons he learned in Florida to Atlanta United in hopes, in his words, of doing it better than it has been done anywhere else.
“I think that things are going really, really well,” he said. “The experiences that Darren and Carlos bring, and I bring, it really, really works well. I think we are trending in the right direction.”
McDonough’s hiring was announced by Atlanta United in December. Since then, he has spent a lot of his time overseeing the $60 million training ground that is under construction in Marietta. It’s a complex that he says will push the envelope in the league and has been praised by everyone from Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio to incoming manager Gerardo Martino, who have seen some of the world’s best training training grounds.
The rest of McDonough’s time is spent scouting and working on what may become Atlanta United’s first roster. The team has eight players and the roster can have many as 28 players, so there are a lot of signings that must be made.
Atlanta United and Minnesota, the other club coming in next year, will each get five picks in the expansion draft on Dec. 13, with the coin flip to be held on Sunday determining who will go first. Past drafts have included 10 selections, which increases the probability of finding several useful first-team players.
McDonough said five is OK because the two new teams will be given extra allocation money (the amount hasn’t been determined), which will allow them to try to sign they players have they clearly identified that they want, rather than possibly those that their current clubs have made available because they are no longer wanted. If Atlanta United can find five first-team players in the expansion draft, and use the allocation money in some way to find two more, McDonough described that as a winning situation.
Atlanta United hasn’t done any mock drafts, but he said those are coming soon. He has spent a lot of time along with others at the club rolling through permutations of Atlanta’s roster.
“We’re just getting to the stage where we are trying to guess what the other teams are going to have exposed,” he said.
It’s important to McDonough that the club has a balance of youth and experience. So far, that’s working. The inexperience of homegrown signings such as Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, as well as Jeffrey Otoo and Hector Villalba, are offset by the experience of veterans Kenwyne Jones and Chris McCann. McDonough said Orlando City may have geared too young when he was there.
As much as McDonough wants all of Atlanta United’s signings to work out, he knows they won’t. McDonough learned in Orlando that mistakes made with personnel need to be dealt with immediately. That may mean holding back some allocation money so that weaknesses in year one can be fixed in year two.
Also, he said preference in the expansion draft won’t be given to players with ties to Atlanta. The need is for useful players, no matter where they are from.
Another lesson McDonough learned is that he thinks while he was in Orlando City the franchise may have become too focused on its success in the United Soccer League. As a result, it may have taken away some of the focus on preparing for MLS. NYCFC, which came into MLS at the same time, didn’t have USL, so it couldn’t be distracted. It’s similar to the situations for Atlanta United and Minnesota, which is finishing its final NASL season before joining MLS next year.
“Going through the expansion process, you have to live it to truly understand it and how difficult it is,” he said.