Atlanta United is on the clock.
Following the conclusion of Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, Atlanta United will pick either first or second in next year’s draft in Los Angeles ahead of its first season.
Club president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra attended last week’s combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as well as Thursday’s draft so that they will be ready when league commissioner Don Garber calls the team’s name at next year’s draft.
“It will be a fun year,” Bocanegra said.
Eales and Bocanegra said they learned many lessons during the past week that they will apply next year.
First, the importance of scouting players during their college seasons was re-affirmed. Eales said the player’s performances at the combine, a series of three games over six days, should only fine-tune what the scouting department has already learned. The combine shouldn’t drastically alter the team’s plans.
Second, Eales and Bocanegra said attending the combine and the draft was good for logistics. Next year they will know when the meetings are, what the meetings are, where they will be sitting during the draft … all the small things that can add up and cause stress.
Third, the pick that Atlanta United has may not be the one they keep. Eales said they will be open to trading the pick. There were six trades in Thursday’s first round, including one that took Garber several minutes to explain because it included two picks and an allocation ranking.
Eales said after listening to Garber explain the machinations he was none the wiser to what actually transpired.
“At least I have a year to go,” Eales said.
That moment was Eales’ favorite during Thursday’s draft, a talent-allocation process unique to American sports.
Eales, a native of England, where teams scout and sign rather than draft, found it fascinating that teams get to pick players at all. Second, he found it interesting that the teams that finished with the worst records get the best picks.
“The concept is different than you have in England,” Eales said. “That takes some getting used to.”
Atlanta United’s goal for next year’s draft is the same as other teams that pick within the draft’s first 30 minutes: find players that contribute immediately.
“They are out there,” Eales said. “They are there. You just have to try to find that player at a specific position.
“But it’s just a method of us acquiring players, one of many ways we are going to bring players in. It’s not as important as if we were in the NBA or NFL.”
Much has changed with the SuperDraft since Bocanegra was selected fourth by Chicago in 2000. The draft that year was conducted in an event room at an upscale Radisson in Fort Lauderdale. Bocanegra was there.
This year’s draft was a much larger, more grand spectacle. Coinciding with a soccer convention in which there were so many Adidas tracksuits worn it could have doubled as a Run-DMC concert, the draft was held in an airplane hangar-sized ballroom in the Baltimore Convention Center. One hundred fifty national and international media were present to track the picks.
“Little bit of a better production,” Bocanegra said when comparing the 2000 draft with the 2016. “It shows that the league is growing, and it’s a great media kickoff for the year.”
Like the drafts in other professional sports, front-office personal and coaches from each team sat at tables in front of the podium where the picks were announced. Behind them was a studio team doing a live broadcast of the draft. Eales and Bocanegra sat off to the side.
Support groups from various teams — Philadelphia’s “Sons of Ben” made the short drive down and were the loudest — booed whenever Garber deigned to mention another team’s name in his opening comments, or providing an instant critique of many of the picks. A member of Terminus Legion, one of the groups that support Atlanta United, said that they will be at next year’s draft.
Atlanta United is on the clock.
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