Sellout crowds are the aim for Orlando City, as a new downtown stadium awaits.

Q&A with new Orlando City VP of soccer Paul McDonough: MLS entry, team philosophy and nurturing young talent

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Last week Orlando City appointed Paul McDonough as their new Vice President of Soccer Operations ahead of their entry into Major League Soccer in 2015.

The former assistant coach at Wake Forest, UConn and the College of Charleston has had a glittering career in the college game at some of the nations top programs, but now it’s time to take the reins at one of MLS’ new expansion franchises.

Recently McDonough has been in the agency game in his role as Director of Global Soccer at Wasserman Media Group, that has seen him represent MLS stars such as Darlington Nagbe, Teal Bunbury and Darren Mattocks amongst many others.

McDonough has close links with MLS and is now in charge of recruiting players for Orlando ahead of the 2015 season, as well as helping head coach Adrian Heath and Club President Phil Rawlins make MLS’ 21st team into a side that can compete for Championships straight-away.

I got the chance to speak exclusively with McDonough about a plethora of topics earlier this week, and this is what he had to say.

What attracted you to Orlando?

The opportunity and the challenge to get in with a blank canvas and do something special. The environment and the atmosphere the last few years around here has been great. I think it’s only going to get better, moving forward.

On the short and long-term goals for Orlando City SC? Have you had a chance to plan all that already?

Not completely. In the short-term it’s just getting acclimated to the team and MLS, there are a  lot of different facets. A lot of scouting that needs to take place for us to get ready. My main focus will be getting ready for that part of it, while Adrian Heath [head coach] will focus on the present team. Long-term goals is to be very competitive in MLS.

How about your day-to-day job? What are you key focus’ with Orlando City?

Key focus for me is to get a structure of the layout of the club. Scouting, short-term and long-term scouting needs to get put into place. So I can really focus on that. As time goes on I will look at the academy and see how we can improve because Homegrowns are going to be a big part of our club and how we move forward.

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A growing fanbase excites McDonough as a huge challenge lies ahead.

Due to your influential career in the college game and at the youth level, will Orlando be looking to bring in a lot of domestic talent from the U.S. and Canada?

I think we will look for talent anywhere that will make the club successful. The Homegrowns, it’s a great atmosphere around here and we need to be successful with Homegrown players, so we want kids to stay at home and play for us.

So there will be a mixture of potential big signings, and building from within?

Yeah, I think when you’re building a team now will look from within MLS with the expansion draft and the SuperDraft will be important for us. Homegrowns, whether they are short-term or down the road, and international signings are always going to part of this league.

How have you found working with Adrian Heath [head coach] and Phil Rawlins [President] at Orlando?

I have complete faith and trust in them, and that’s why I took the challenge on. They have done so well on the playing field and I think what they’ve done off the field is amazing. It’s only going to get better. I feel very comfortable with that.

What will be the difference from making that jump up from the college game to the pros? Is there something new that you will bring to the table? What big challenges do you envisage?

I have traveled all over the world looking for players and I’ve spent the last four years in the agency world. I’m familiar with the professional players and their mentalities. I think the challenge is just going to be waiting out and finding the best players that fit the style and system of Orlando.

Do you know what system and style that is going to be? Is this something you’ve already discussed at length with Adrian?

He wants to play an attacking brand of soccer. 4-2-3-1 is the ideal formation. But we want to play an attacking and entertaining type soccer. We’ve discussed it in-depth, so now it’s all about finding the players who can help him on the field and to where he wants to go.

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McDonough has worked with and represented some of the best young domestic talents.

Following your time in the agency world, can you give us some examples of the success stories you had?

I just did a deal for Juan Agudelo to Stoke, then he went on loan to Utrecht. Did the Brek Shea deal to Stoke, I represented Darlington Nagbe and Teal Bunbury throughout their whole career. I think Darlington is one of the future stars of our leagues. I’ve had Darren Mattocks for his whole career. I’ve had Zach Lloyd his whole career from UNC. And also a relatively unknown goalkeeper who plays for the New York Red Bulls, Ryan Meara. I think he is going to continue to do really well.

What is your opinion of the Designated Player rule? Is it something that helps or hinders most MLS squads with the big discrepancy between the DPs and the younger guys?

I think every club has their own philosophy. I’m still learning about the philosophy of what the ownership group here want to approach it. Look, I think the DP rule has done well for the league but there’s always a discrepancy in a salary cap league when you have DPs. But overall, it’s good for the league.

What changes would you’d like to see with the salary cap, maybe increase the minimum wage to stop younger players hopping over to Europe when they get out of college?

The league pays most guys well. As opposed to going to Scandinavia or something like that, I think that’s why players stay. I think the collective bargaining agreement will be interesting this year, but I will leave that to the league and the MLS Players Union to sort out.

After seeing the SuperDraft just take place and the advent of Homegrown players and MLS academies, will the college game still be a big part of the league and Orlando’s future?

In the short-term it will be. I don’t know where it goes down the road. It’s just another mechanism to get good players, so I think right now it will always be something that’s around. For us, we have to look at all mechanisms to make our team better.

So getting players from the college game will be key for Orlando now and in the future?

It is just another mechanism to help out team be successful.

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Source: Orlando City SC

The potential rivalry with Miami and/or Atlanta franchise in MLS, is that something that excites you? Something similar to the Pacific Northwest happening in the Southeast?

It would be great. The Cascadia Cup is great for that region, and I hope that Miami and Atlanta come in and we can have good rivals and people that we can beat all the time.

How important is it that the team not only build for MLS, but has another successful season in USL PRO before making the jump?

It is really important because we’ve done so well in the last couple of years. Building a culture of winning is very important, to keep building on the foundations. Why not win another championship? It will keep the culture going and get more fans involved and get ready for MLS.

Are there any MLS expansion clubs you want to emulate? Is there a team you look at and say, ‘they’ve done it right’?

You have to take the good and bad from what clubs have done in the past. Some clubs have done very well with very different strategies. Not  expansion clubs, but the likes of Psorting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake have done very in how they’ve managed their team. The environment in Portland is fantastic and they’re doing a good job at what they’re doing now. Those clubs have done really well.

Your job is to recruit the players, but how exciting is it to be involved in this project where you can see the fanbase growing in Orlando and build a club off a clean slate?

It’s great and very exciting. When the opportunity came up, you really didn’t have to think too hard about getting involved with something special. It’s exciting.

Finally, can you paint a picture of what you’d like Orlando to be like in five years time?

Selling out every game. Winning championships. And it would be nice to compete on the international scene.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.