Atlanta's MLS club has a lot of work before its 2017 opener
Apr 21, 2014 at 6:00p ET
ATLANTA -- Arthur Blank and his people aren't wasting any time with the ground-up construction of Atlanta's Major League Soccer franchise, even though it won't play an official game for another 35 months.
On the Web site MLSAtlanta2017.com, the franchise has already posted a timeline, which includes the hiring of a club president (summer 2014). If that's accurate, Blank and the executives in his employment must begin interviewing candidates soon, if they haven't done so already.
And club officials of the yet-to-be-named club are already taking $50 deposits for season tickets, awarding the first 5,000 will to sign up "founder" status.
By next year, the franchise's "technical staff" will begin scouting players all over the world. That means it has to hire a general manager, scouts and a coach, possibly within eight months.
So while the team cannot begin to sign players until late 2016, and the MLS expansion draft doesn't occur until December 2016, the sprint for Opening Day has already begun.
The MLS expansion franchise New York City FC, owned by the English Premier League's Manchester City and MLB's New York Yankees, has yet to announce any player transactions, and it begins play in less than a year.
But the club has already begun connecting with local youth clubs -- the kind of early, grass-roots moves that Atlanta officials will likely establish over time.
The franchise also could explore relationships with teams in other countries, arranging potential loans or transfers of players.
The club's first task will involve the hire of a general manager. Here are several paths the franchise could take, with some potential candidates in mind:
**Blank is willing to devote the necessary resources (re: spending) to make the team successful, just like he has done with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. If that's the case, then Blank might pursue Real Salt Lake's Garth Lagerwey for the GM role.
Last September, The Toronto Star caused a stir when it reported Lagerwey ranked among "the early favorites" to assume control of Toronto FC.
Lagerwey, who ended up staying, took over Real Salt Lake in 2007, and the team has made the playoffs every season since and won a championship in 2009. According to a follow-up story on MLSSoccer.com, a team spokesman reported Lagerwey was under contract "through the 2014 season."
Hmmm, could be interesting timing.
**Another potential move would be to hire an insider from the league office, someone who can navigate the MLS's tricky salary cap and rules regarding player acquisitions.
Falcons CEO Rich McKay fits this profile, to a degree. He is the former GM for both the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also co-chairs the league's prestigious competition committee and has been rumored as a candidate for the NFL commissioner's job in the past.
Toronto FC took this path when it ultimately hired Tim Bezbatchenko as general manager. Bezbatchenko previously had served for three seasons as senior director of player relations and competition at the MLS league office.
According to his bio, Bezbatchenko was responsible for "negotiating and drafting player contracts, as well as finalizing loan and transfer agreements for the import and export of players to and from MLS."
With Bezbatchenko at the helm, Toronto acquired one of the best players on the U.S. national team, midfielder Michael Bradley, along with forward Jermain Dafoe, who has played 55 games with England's national team and has EPL experience; and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who came from the EPL's Queens Park Rangers.
Six games into the 34-game season, Toronto is in third place in the Eastern Conference after finishing ninth of 10 teams last season.
**A third possibility is someone with experience who would appeal to Atlanta's Hispanic community. When MLS commissioner Don Garber announced the franchise at a press conference last week, he spoke of appealing to the "new America" -- for which the growing Hispanic community occupies a considerable part.
One potential candidate in this mold could be the bilingual Chivas USA president Nelson Rodriguez.
Rodriguez took over the franchise last month after the league assumed control of its operations, while it searches for a buyer.
Rodriguez worked for 16 years at the league office, most recently as its chief disciplinarian. He also worked for MLS's New York/New Jersey MetroStars franchise and for Soccer United Marketing, the league's marketing arm which runs exhibition games and some soccer television rights in the United States.
Rodriguez is also a former coach at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.
Whichever path Blank chooses, the plan will begin to unfold soon.