MLS Atlanta President Darren Eales on the pitch vs. the boardroom

Darren Eales will lead Atlanta’s MLS franchise as its president after his hiring late last year.

But as a boy he dreamed of playing on the pitch, rather than sitting in the boardroom. Atlanta’s MLS team will start in 2017 and play in owner Arthur Blank’s new stadium downtown.

But Eales made sure that if soccer didn’t work out he would have a career.

Q: When did you realize your future in soccer was in the boardroom, and not on the field?

A: I pretty much realized it when I was in England. I played on the youth level in Cambridge United, which at the time were in the Championship. Even then, I carried on doing my A levels. I must have been one of the handful of people who carried on at school voluntarily. I realized it’s very competitive and I was quite a small player. Cambridge, the manger was famous for the long ball. He brought Cambridge up the through the divisions playing through the channels.

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For me, as a little midfielder, I didn’t really fit his profile anyway. I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t be a player.

Then I came to university in America.

The coach was there to watch me in a youth game against West Ham. I knew this guy was there. I was running around like crazy, taking every throw in. We lost 4-nil. I can remember my teammates after saying, “What’s up with you?”

He offered me a scholarship to West Virginia. I was going to take a gap year – you tend to do that in England, you have a gap year before you go to university — that’s how I sold it to my parents.

Had a great time, as you can imagine, as an 18-year-old in America.

To be honest the level of detail in the soccer preparation, because we used the American football facilities, the gym was miles better than Cambridge United, the preparation we did, the video analysis, which we weren’t doing in Cambridge. From preparation it was light years ahead of England.

I had such a good time, I wanted to see if I could stay in the States. I realized I had to go to a university that taxed me a little bit more. I got lucky to go to Brown with a good coach.

I then ended up playing a little bit more once I graduated. Again, I wasn’t thinking long term. I had the opportunity to play in New York. I was thinking short term. I wasn’t under any illusions it would be a long-term career.

Then I hurt my hamstring quite badly. All I really had was pace. Once I lost that I had nothing to fall back on. I had no skills. Once I couldn’t chase that ball over the top it was like, ‘Ummm, OK.’

Starlet news: If you missed it last week, Gedion Zelalem received U.S. citizenship and is expected to pledge his future to playing for the red, white and blue.

Zelalem is a creative midfielder who plays for Arsenal, though he has yet to make an appearance with the senior squad in a Premier League game (he has played in tournament games).

It will be fascinating to watch the hype that will inevitably accompany the decision made by the 17-year old because young starlets in this country are usually overhyped.

Freddy Adu, who is now once again without a club and future in the sport, went through it. Julian Green, who is a member of Bayern Munich, experienced it early last year. He has yet to crack through a regular spot on Munich’s first team, was loaned out and isn’t doing much for Hamburg.

If Zelalem can break into Arsenal’s first team it would be very important for the future of the U.S. men’s team, which badly needs a creative force in the midfield.

MLS and designated players: MLS and its Designated Players were in the news for good and bad reasons last week.

The good: Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard revealed that he is leaving the Reds, the club he has been with since he was an 8-year-old and has led to numerous trophies, to join MLS. Reportedly, the midfielder will be hooking up with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Gerrard is a legend at Liverpool and, though 34 years old, will be an asset for the league when he arrives during the summer.

The bad: Frank Lampard will not be joining expansion club New York City FC in a couple of months, as originally thought. Instead, he will join the team during the summer.

Lampard, a midfielder now with Manchester City, means almost as much to Chelsea fans as Gerrard as does to Liverpool’s.

A few months may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme, but there are issues regarding transparency and fairness that are being raised.

New York FC is owned by the same group that owns Manchester City FC. The two teams also share the same colors, the kits look similar, etc.

When the deal for Lampard was announced last year, he was going to start with New York in March. He was then sent out on loan to Manchester City. But he is playing so well for the Citizens, who are in the thick of trying to defend their Premier League title, it was decided that he would stay in England for a few more months.

The result makes MLS looks like a feeder league, or at least one that is viewed as second class.

Commissioner Don Garber defended the team and the league to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl: “I don’t think it is a farm team for Man City. With this decision, while I can understand people will try to think that, the level of investment that this ownership group is making with the club is massive, and it rivals some of the bigger clubs around the world. This kind of decision is not something in my view that in any way says this is a farm team for Man City. I don’t believe in all my dealings with them that they have led us to believe that’s true.”

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