I recently spent 5 days observing the Atlanta United Academy and first team. The purpose of the trip was to see how an MLS academy is run on a day to day basis and observe training sessions and games. I spent Wednesday October 18 to Sunday October 22 with Atlanta United.
I arrived on Wednesday and after getting a tour of the facility and meeting several key members of Atlanta United including Tony Annan the Academy Director and Carlos Bocanegra the Technical Director, I went to go watch Individual Development Plans. This is done with the players who the staff feels has the most potential to make the first team. The ages of these players were from U14 to U19 and there were about 30 players participating. The players were broken up into 4 stations and the idea of these sessions is to improve an area of these players game where they need to improve or to continue to improve an area of their game which is important to the position they play. For example, the forwards worked on finishing, the midfielders worked on passing and receiving, the defenders worked on 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 defending, and the wingers worked on crossing. The session lasted about 45 minutes. After the session I went to watch the first team train at 4PM. The head coach of Atlanta United is Gerardo Martino. Martino is from Argentina and is a very experienced coach having served as the head coach of the national teams of Argentina and Paraguay as well as FC Barcelona from Spain. Martino was very involved in all the sessions I observed. After some activation work and technical work Martino took the players through some pattern play focusing on the midfield rotation. The session lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes. After this session I was able to go watch their U15 boys train. The session consisted of some technical work with some dynamic movements to warm up, then similar to the first team they focused on some midfield patterns going to goal, and then they finished with an 11 v 11 game going to goals. During my visit Double Pass which is a company from Belgium who assesses and advices soccer clubs, leagues, and federations on how to optimize talent development, was there assessing Atlanta United. I was able to sit next to them and watch the session which was great to listen to them make observations. It was a great start to the trip and I had already gathered some valuable information.
On Thursday the first team trained at 10AM so I was able to observe this session. The session was focused on more midfield rotations and some patterns concentrating on building out of the back and breaking pressure from goalkicks. That evening I was able to spend some time speaking with Tony Annan the Academy Director for Atlanta United while also watching the U19’s train. Twice per week the players have an activation and injury prevention workout that they do prior to their training sessions. This is lead by their sports scientist Michael Serio. The players have a 30 minute window where they must arrive in the gym to do their workout so Michael can help and answer questions if needed. The facilities were first class with all of the newest technology. In their weight room they have cycling bikes set up overlooking one of the training fields and the entire window can open up so the players can train in the heat if needed. They also have space saving dumbbells, the newest cable machines, and televisions throughout the room so the players can watch soccer as they workout. Later that evening I was able to watch the U14’s train and again saw more consistencies with build up and pattern play with their session. The U14’s will start their training sessions with some injury prevention and activation exercises while also learning basic lifts with PCP pipe and body weight focusing on technique.
Friday was my final day to watch training. I was able to watch the first team train in the morning. As I saw in the other sessions Tata Martino was very involved in the training session. The session started with some technical work in groups of 3 and then they focused on playing a 1-3-5-2 which was different than the other days when they played a 1-4-3-3. The session lasted about 1 hour. That evening I went to watch the U17’s and the U15’s train. The U17’s worked on some patterns similar to what the first team had done the day before which were some patterns of how to break pressure from a goalkick. The U15’s started with some technical work in groups of 3 and 4 and then did some pattern play to goal.
On Saturday I went to watch Atlanta United’s U15’s and U19’s play Orlando City. There were several players in the U.S. National Pools involved from both clubs and the level of the games were very good. The best player I saw was a 2002 player named George Bello. He is on the U.S. National team for his age group and was the best player on the field playing against players 2 and 3 years older than him. He is currently a U16 player and has signed a professional contract with Atlanta United. After the games to help with recovery the Atlanta United players take cold and hot baths alternating 3 minutes cold and 3 minutes hot for 3 times. They have jacuzzi baths in their training room area which has two tubs next to each other with televisions on the wall. As I stated earlier the facilities were world class. The entire Atlanta United training facility has 3 -11 a side grass fields (2 for the first team) and 3 full size turf fields. One of the turf fields has a set of stands for spectators. They also have a huge storage area with all of their training equipment which includes polls, mannequins, and soccer walls.
On Sunday I went to watch Atlanta United’s U15’s and U19’s play against Boca United. Boca United is a non-MLS club in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy so the level was good but not as strong as the games the day before. After these games I went to watch the MLS game between Atlanta United and Toronto FC at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game finished 2-2 and the atmosphere was electric. The game was a sell out with 71,000 people in attendance.
My trip to Atlanta United was very informative and I found it very encouraging for the level of soccer in our country. The development of soccer players participating in this environment will only help improve the level of soccer in our country and for our national teams. The level of coaching, planning, and sharing ideas within the Atlanta United Academy was impressive and motivating. I look forward to getting back on the field with our teams and sharing these ideas with our coaches and players.