June 29, 2018


How Atlanta United's innovative recruiting changed Major League Soccer: Atlanta United wanted something different from their star designated players--and that decision radically changed recruiting for the MLS. (MELISSA LOCKER, 6/29/18, Fast Company)

"The way it works in M.L.S. is you have a salary cap and three designated players [DPs] that you can pay anything over and above the cap," explains Darren Eales, President of Atlanta United FC. Traditionally those DPs are very well-paid, with teams throwing millions at players like British football legend and trophy husband David Beckham, who came over from Europe to play for the L.A. Galaxy. In fact, as more European pros at the tail end of their careers follow in Beckham's footsteps, making their way to the U.S., in the hopes of one last big pay-out before retirement, the Designated Players Rule, has become known as the "Beckham Rule." Atlanta United, though, wanted something different from their DPs--and that decision radically changed recruiting for M.L.S.

When team owner (and Home Depot founder) Arthur Blank hired Eales away from the English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (THFC), they both knew they wanted a young, dynamic, fast, and attacking team. They also knew they probably wouldn't be able to get that from older players, even if they were European stars. Rather than using the money set aside to woo star DPs, they decided to bring in younger, lesser-known talent instead.

"We felt we could get better players, if we got younger players building up their career rather than taking a player on his last contract that perhaps is already halfway on the beach," says Eales.

However, money wasn't the only thing Atlanta United had to offer. The U.S. soccer program is still young and while footie-playing kids around the world don't necessarily grow up dreaming of playing in M.L.S., it's much easier to get in on the ground floor of one of the 23 professional clubs in the U.S. than it is to break into England's Premier League. Even if an 18-year-old Argentine upstart was able to sign on with a team like Crystal Palace or Stoke Newington, there's a good chance he (yes, it is all "he" in this world) would end up on the bench for most of the season, in favor of more seasoned players.

Eales knew that one thing the M.L.S. could offer a young player is opportunity. "I realized we could sell M.L.S. as this growing league where if you are a younger player, you could come develop your game, and then move on," says Eales.

MLS does not want to be seen as a developmental league, but ignores the possibility that younger teams are just better and, more importantly, more entertaining.  (see under: Liverpool, Nigeria, the current USMNT)

Posted by at June 29, 2018 3:33 PM