Atlanta’s MLS club has a lot of work before its 2017 opener

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 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.

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."

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.