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20 People to Watch - Carlos Bocanegra

The true football legend wants to make Atlanta's new Major League Soccer team the best


Carlos Bocanegra didn't know what to expect when he arrived in Atlanta last March. The California native and U.S. soccer legend has been pleasantly surprised.

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"Over the moon surprised," says the technical director of Atlanta United FC, the city's first Major League Soccer Team. "I think once people get here, they're like, 'Oh man, this is awesome.' I mean, I've had friends visiting from California, they're just like, 'Wow, I didn't realize it was this cool of a city.'"

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So he loves the city. Now he just has to make sure the city loves the team.

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Bocanegra and other AUFC officials have a long to-do list before the team kicks off its inaugural season in 2017. While construction crews work on the team's future home, Downtown's $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and training facility and headquarters complex in Marietta, Bocanegra and team officials are trying to build interest in a professional soccer team in a notoriously fickle sports town.

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As technical director, Bocanegra is essentially the equivalent of an NFL general manager, with the responsibility for the entire team organization, from coaches to sports scientists to scouts to, of course, the players.

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It's the first front-office job for Bocanegra, who had a successful 15-year playing career in the U.S., England, Scotland, France, and Spain before retiring at the end of 2014. He played more than 100 games for the U.S. national team, including two World Cup appearances. He served as team captain in 64 games for the national team, and also captained three club teams, earning the nickname "Captain America."

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This year, one of his biggest decisions will be sifting through résumés with team President Darren Eales and hiring the franchise's first head coach. The target hire date is the summer, but that date is subject to change: "If we find someone that's available that we feel will be a great fit for us, team owner Arthur Blank's given the green light to go ahead and pull the trigger."

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Then he'll start scouting MLS, as well as the many European, South American, and Central American leagues for established pro players to help assemble a first team. AUFC will also hold a local adult tryout to find someone who's so far been "flying under the radar." In May or June, AUFC will hold youth tryouts to find the "best of the best" players, ages 11 to 18, who will make up the five branded Atlanta United FC youth teams. The training academy will try to produce professional soccer players and, Bocanegra says, well-rounded young adults.

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In between, he'll keep making the rounds, building awareness and adding more names to the list of 26,000 people who have made deposits on season tickets. He's played soccer in Woodruff Park in the middle of the workweek. He's watched the national team's televised games at Brewhouse in Little Five Points. In October, at the Black Tie Soccer Game in Piedmont Park benefiting the nonprofit Soccer in the Streets, he played the world's most beautiful game in a kilt.

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"It was a little bit liberating actually," he says, though he admits that he "didn't do it the true Scottish way — I had some spandex sliders underneath."



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