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An Englishman In Atlanta

Atlanta United FC was very privileged to have the opportunity this week to talk to Oliver Shannon, one of the new signings for Atlanta United ahead of the 2018 MLS campaign.

From humble roots in Birkenhead on Merseyside, Oliver Shannon spent some 13 years with Everton’s famous youth academy before completing his studies at Clemson University in the United States. On January 19th, 2018, he was drafted to Atlanta United and on February 21st signed a contract with the Five Stripes.

MLSFootball was lucky to speak to Oliver after a morning training session, having featured in a first team friendly against Charleston over the weekend, Oliver feels that his preparations for the new season are coming along well, although his personal preparation began some time ago. “My preparation started in January getting ready for the draft.”

Oliver acknowledges that this week is a very important one as the team prepare to face Houston Dynamo at the BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday. One of the key aspects is to be part of the team as it gets better and integrate the new signings such as Ezequiel Barco. Oliver had a chuckle at the news that most of the MLSFootball team had predicted Barco to be the best signing of the MLS season.

The MLS SuperDraft is a concept that is rather alien to European football fans. Young footballers leave North American universities and are selected for MLS teams. If you do have a spare few hours, the MLS kindly have uploaded the 2018 draft in Philadelphia to YouTube. You’ll find Oliver picked by Atlanta United at number 36 along with a clip of him in action, which he himself described as showing the two sides of his game – a crunching tackle and a spectacular long-range goal.

“The draft is different for an international player. I knew I wasn’t going to be high so I relaxed for the first few picks.” Oliver is quick to explain how the SuperDraft works, “When you’re drafted, it’s an opportunity, not a signed contract. Not everybody understands that. Work started when I got to Atlanta. I came in each day to earn a contract.”

Earning a contract and working month-to-month is not a concept that Oliver is unfamiliar with, having been at Everton’s youth academy since the age of 5 until he was 18, he earned several two-year contracts during his time with the Toffees.

Atlanta United’s press release announcing Oliver’s signing was highlighted in our very own MLS Rundown on February 23rd. “Since joining our team for preseason, Ollie has proven to be a good fit for our style of play and he’s earned his place on our roster,” Atlanta vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “He’s a player we scouted in-depth for a long time and quickly learned that his physical makeup and player profile would fit in well with our club philosophy.”

When asked about working under former Barcelona and Argentina manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Oliver’s impressed outlook towards the Atlanta head coach is obvious.

First of all, I love football so I knew all about Tata Martino. He’s a legend in the game.” Even as Oliver speaks of his admiration, he betrays himself with his true focus and work ethic, “At first you sit in meetings with him and pinch yourself but then you accept that he’s your coach. I want to help the team get better, I’ve taken to his philosophy and I feel comfortable playing under him.”

During his days at Everton, Oliver trained at Finch Farm, Everton’s famous academy which has produced first team players such as Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny in recent seasons. He confesses that the facilities at Atlanta United are on par if not better than those at Everton.

It’s a completely new facility. The locker room is amazing, you have a personalised locker room area.”

When pressed on his ambitions for the season, Oliver acknowledged that it was going to be a challenging season for him personally as he seeks to establish himself in Atlanta.

“I’ve done well in preseason and come into training each day to perform. I’m taking it game-by-game with minutes through the second team. There’s a great set up at Atlanta 2 in a really competitive league.”

Atlanta United 2 play in the United Soccer League, the division below Major League Soccer and feature future MLS sides such as Nashville SC and hopefuls Phoenix Rising FC.

Oliver believes the overall Atlanta ambitions are to look to improve, although that will be a challenge after Atlanta scored 70 goals and conceded only 40 in their 2017 campaign. For reference MLS Cup winners Toronto scored 74 and conceded 37. Atlanta was blessed with overwhelming support, an average crowd of 48,200 attended fixtures with 71,874 attending their 2 – 2 draw with Toronto FC in October.

With investments made in the playing squad being Oliver’s last point, he hopes to impress alongside the impressive list of new talent wearing the Five Stripes of Atlanta.

MLSFootball would like to thank Oliver and Atlanta United’s media relations department for allowing us access. Best wishes for the new season starting with Houston Dynamo this weekend.