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Doing it right? Checking in on Atlanta United’s preparation for MLS

Some lessons, certainly, for LAFC.

Soccer: Mexican National Team-Paraguay vs Mexico Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Launching an MLS expansion team from the ground up is an exhaustive process. Especially in this day and age, when teams are expected not only to have a team to play in MLS, but also a stadium, fully-funded academy, training facility, connections to the community, good relationship with a USL or their own USL team...it’s a very long list.

In the case of Los Angeles Football Club, which will enter MLS in 2018, comes a fascinating predecessor, Atlanta United FC, which begins play in 2017. While LAFC appear to have the ambition to launch themselves among MLS’ elite, Atlanta United is matching that ambition, and possibly even raising the bar.

As a result, it seemed like a great time to check in with SB Nation’s Atlanta United blog, Dirty South Soccer, ahead of their inaugural season this year. Many thanks to Rob Usry of Dirty South Soccer for taking the time to answer my questions!

1. I'll start off with a rather general question: From the outside, Atlanta United is getting a lot of press that they are "doing it right" when it comes to building an MLS expansion team from scratch. Is this the general impression in Atlanta and with the burgeoning fanbase? Excitement always seems like the default for expansion but I wouldn't be surprised if there are also major expectations.

The fans in Atlanta are more excited than I ever could have imagined. It's more that just the natural excitement of a new team coming to town, I believe. Sure, there are some that are just happy to have an MLS team and will be interested just for that reason. However, the hardcore fans recognize that Arthur Blank and Darren Eales are doing everything in their ability to make United a contender from day one. From the investment in the Academy to buying the right type of players instead of the ones who might sell tickets, I would say "doing things right" is more than just a moniker or narrative at this point and that has fans really excited.

2. The club hired possibly the most accomplished head coach globally in MLS history with Gerardo "Tata" Martino. It was kind of a move out of left field, but what's the feeling in Atlanta about his appointment? And has Patrick Vieira's season of relative success in MLS lifted a burden of sorts for Martino, that foreign newcomers can't be successful in MLS?

Patrick Vieira has helped negate the belief that foreign coaches with no MLS experience can succeed. It also helps that Tata will be backed with as precise and intelligent of a front office that you could ask for.

There's always that small nugget in the back of your mind that a foreign coach could stumble in MLS. That feeling will exist until matches are actually played and Atlanta United prove something on the field, but optimism is very high around the hiring of Tata.

3. Something I'm really curious about is the off-field stuff. What's it like locally as far as building the fanbase? I've heard season tickets are pretty sizable, but how is the team getting the word out about themselves in the community? And is it working, or could more be done?

Again, this may be feeding into the whole euphoria of having a new team, but it really feels like the club are leaving no stone unturned as far as reaching out in the community. They are making an effort to reach every demographic and cater to all needs. They hold team sanctioned events nearly every month and have done so for the last year and a half. From marches around the city for the supporters groups to Boxing Day meet-ups just to watch soccer, the club are top notch in this department.

4. What about facilities? Obviously they'll be playing in a new stadium, albeit one with turf -- what's the opinion on that? And what about the practice facility? Is everything coming together in time for the inaugural season?

There was a little disappointment around the fanbase that the club would have to start in a temporary home of Bobby Dodd Stadium, but most understand that construction cannot be forecast 100 percent. Now that there's an announced date for the Mercedes-Benz Stadium opener on July 30th, there's some relief.

No one is ever thrilled to hear their team is playing on turf. While most teams say their artificial playing surface is the best you can get, with Arthur Blank in charge, you can't help but believe the team when they say their turf will be the best.

The approximately $60 million training facility is coming together. They've already opened the doors and had the first ever U-18 training session there last week. So, it appears as if that project is on schedule.

5. Last question regards Atlanta United's USL partnership this year with the Charleston Battery. LAFC has entered a similar arrangement for this year. How did it go in 2016 for Atlanta? Did it result in finding contributors to the MLS roster? Anything that could have been better in the arrangement?

I think the problem you will always run into with these types of arrangements is the struggle for playing time. This was no different for Atlanta United. They had three players on loan with the Battery and only one managed to get respectable minutes. In an ideal world, a club would have full control over who gets time to develop, but at the end of the day USL teams are still trying to compete.

The affiliate situation was acceptable for the circumstances of beginning your inaugural roster, but now that the squad is filling up and the academy is in full swing, we're a little bit concerned. Many of the Atlanta United fans are hoping for an internal reserve team to be created so the the club can regulate the minutes of their young players and make sure they are getting the proper attention.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!