US Soccer plans to build a national training center and make a historic move to Atlanta

By | September 16, 2023

Aerial drone view of the skyline of Atlanta, Georgia, the State Fishing Dome show of State Capital.  (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Aerial drone view of Atlanta skyline. (Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The US Soccer Federation plans to build a national training center in Atlanta, a first-of-its-kind facility that will become the federation’s new headquarters and centralize most of its operations.

US Soccer has been based in Chicago since the early 1990s, but its national teams have held training camps and games in dozens of different cities across the country. The Atlanta facility, which will include everything from fields to offices, will become an all-in-one hub for the federation’s business staff, youth national team camps, sports operations and more.

The senior men’s and women’s national teams, nicknamed the USMNT and USWNT, will almost certainly still travel coast to coast, to various markets, for games. But now they will have a base, with “uninterrupted access to elite infrastructure for training, development, recovery and performance analysis,” according to US Soccer.

The training center “will also host youth tournaments, football community conferences and will be a gathering place for the wider football ecosystem”, the federation said.

US Soccer has not yet selected a specific site in metro Atlanta. It does not yet have a timeline for construction. But its board approved the plan Friday, clearing the way for the announcement, which was the culmination of discussions that accelerated in 2022 and 2023 but date back several years.

US Soccer chooses Atlanta after years of discussions

A national training center had long been considered desirable by USSF officials. Globally, many successful football associations have one. The central questions for U.S. Soccer were twofold: Does a single hub make sense in such a large nation? And with so many state-of-the-art facilities across the nation, was it worth spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build one specifically for the national teams?

“The reality is that this is a huge country,” then-USSF president Carlos Cordeiro said in 2019. “We are as big as, if not bigger than, all of Europe combined. We are a federation for all this. So… do we have a training center? Do we have more training centers? Don’t assume that everything will be in one place. It could be in one location. It could be in three or four positions. It’s a compromise between having everyone together and reality.”

Both questions were answered, in part, by Arthur Blank, the Home Depot co-founder turned philanthropist. Blank, owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United, pledged $50 million to the project. His contribution and other corporate partnerships helped influence U.S. soccer leaders—most notably CEO JT Batson—to choose Atlanta over Cary, North Carolina, the other finalist.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank walks on the turf before the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank walks on the turf before the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Batson, a Georgia native who became CEO last fall, traveled to Atlanta to meet with potential benefactors and explore potential locations for the facility. He helped secure a partnership with Coca-Cola, another Atlanta-based corporate giant, which “played an important role in bringing the [facility] in the club’s hometown,” US Soccer said.

Batson is now leading the search for the specific site; a final decision will be made in January and construction could begin by the end of next year. It’s unclear when the facility might open — and it’s unclear whether the federation would want to move in the months before the 2026 men’s World Cup, which it is co-hosting.

How will the national training center be used?

In Friday’s announcement, US Soccer began outlining its vision for the facility, which, above all, it will serve All of the US national soccer teams. The USWNT and USMNT are just two of the 27. There are 16 youth teams (YNT) and nine “extended national teams” (ENT): two futsal teams, two beach football teams, two cerebral palsy teams, two teams of deaf people and a co. -ed power football team (for power wheelchair users).

The training center will perhaps have the greatest impact for the latter group, with some of Blank’s contribution in particular [supporting] the national cerebral palsy (CP), deaf and Power Soccer teams, including thoughtfully designing locker rooms and training facilities to maximize accessibility for players,” US Soccer said.

The big unknown, however, is how senior national teams will use the national training center once it opens.

USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter had previously backed him. Last January, as US Soccer explored the possibilities, he called the prospect “advantageous … not only because of the consistency of the senior team, but also having all the other teams.” He cited visits to England’s national training centre, St. George’s, where the national youth and senior teams train before traveling elsewhere for matches. “It’s a lab, man,” Berhalter said. “You see all the coaches interact, you see the teams there and, really, the players feel at home.”

US Soccer sought to recreate those interactions with coaches in its Chicago offices. Late last decade, he began requiring all coaches and key employees to move to Chicago (or at least spend significant time there). The problem, of course, was that Chicago had no fields to work on. Training camps were almost always held elsewhere, in warmer climates, in better facilities.

ST.  LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 8: (L-R) Coach Gregg Berhalter and Christian Pulisic of the United States talk during USMNT practice at City Park on September 8, 2023 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

Coach Gregg Berhalter and Christian Pulisic of the United States talk during USMNT practice at City Park on September 8, 2023 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

The Atlanta facility, on the other hand, could allow the federation to replicate some aspects of St. George’s, or the French Clairefontaine, or the Italian Coverciano. The USMNT and USWNT could gather there, train there, then fly to other cities a day or two before friendlies or World Cup qualifiers. And youth teams could train there at the same time, one field away.

The training center could be bypassed for the shortened camps – the standard international window often requires players to arrive on a Monday, then play on a Friday, then travel for another game early the following week – but it will likely host extended camps sooner of the main fields. tournaments.

It will almost certainly have indoor courts, or heated and shaded courts, making it a viable year-round home. And its location, not far from the world’s busiest airport, is convenient for Europe-based players, many of whom might still connect through Atlanta or another East Coast airport to still get to camp in another city of the United States.

This was another reason why Atlanta became the favorite city of US soccer. Over the years the federation had opened other specialized centers. More than two decades ago, he partnered with the Los Angeles Galaxy to build one in Carson, California, adjacent to the Galaxy’s new stadium. They called it the “National Training Center,” and the USMNT often held winter camps on its 125-acre campus and nine luxury training camps.

In 2018, the federation partnered with another MLS team, Sporting Kansas City, to build the “National Performance Center”, also called the “National Development Center”, primarily to host coach training programs.

But Kansas City was often too cold and too remote for USMNT or USWNT camps. Los Angeles was too far from Europe and furthermore the Galaxy, not US Soccer, was the primary owner and operator of the facility.

The Atlanta project will bring everything under one roof and create a physical space for the often intangible pipeline from youth teams to senior teams to thrive.

“I think it’s going to be great for us,” USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie said in a statement published by US Soccer. “Having a place to call home and having a place where all the US national soccer teams can train and develop – it’s always nice to have that because it’s similar to academic systems, where kids can see what they could be and where they can go, and it’s all very united. You see, the best countries in the world have their own structures, so it will be nice for us to have a base where we can come together.”

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