Who said soccer couldn’t survive in Atlanta?
Saturday December 8th, 2018. A day that will go down in Atlanta sports history.
In just the second year of existence, the team that has taken the league by storm is playing in MLS Cup.
Atlanta United aims to do what no team has done since the Braves in 1995, and that’s bring Atlanta a major pro title.
To the masses, MLS may not be considered a major pro sport. Those people haven’t been to Atlanta in the past two years. A quick drive around and you’ll spot flags in shops, restaurants, on houses, tags on cars, bike racks, tunnels, you name it. The Five Stripes sparked a movement that is here to stay.
Honestly, when the announcement was made several years back, I was a skeptic. “Ah, just another thing for Atlanta to half-assidly support” ran through my mind.
Then the first match came. 55,000 people packed their way into Bobby Dodd Stadium to witness the start of something special. Despite losing that one in typical Atlanta fashion by giving up two late goals, the city was hooked.
Week after week the city kept showing out in record numbers when some thought the hype would drop off.
They also kept winning. The team amassed a 6-2-1 home record over the four month stay on the Flats. The atmosphere built there was so incredible that people were even concerned that it may not be replicated at MBS.
Boy were they wrong.
For those who may not be familiar with MLS, the average team attracts 15-25,000 fans per match. The lone exception being Seattle Sounders who garner around 40,000 per match.
48,200. That’s what Atlanta United came in and did in year one. Perhaps even more impressing was packing 67,000 in for the mid-week knockout round game with only four days to sell tickets. We won’t talk about how that game ended though.
The 2018 season would be one for the record books. Sporting largely the same cast as the year before, Atlanta was poised to build upon the foundation set. Expectations tempered a bit after an opening week dud in Houston but we would bounce back.
After Saturday’s MLS Cup, over 1,000,000 fans will have made their way to Mercedes Benz Stadium to watch a soccer match.
For the majority of the year, Atlanta United was the undisputed best side in MLS. A few hiccups against New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC surrendered the Supporters’ Shield but Atlanta was still in prime position to make a playoff run.
Atlanta United fans celebrate on a packed MARTA train after beating Orlando
The Five Stripes went on to cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs with 4-1 and 3-1 victories on aggregate against the two New York teams.
Despite being huge favorites in the Cup, Atlanta still has to come out and play their game. Portland was able to get a draw at the Benz earlier this year and have traversed a very tough road to get here.
Atlanta is the more talented side by far, but nothing is guaranteed in a one game final.
Atlanta United celebrate after going up 3-0 in the first leg of the ECF
In the past few weeks and months, people have tried to convince me that an Atlanta United Championship wouldn’t be on the same level as a Falcons, Braves or even Hawks title.
I truly beg to differ. The Five Stripes are our team. A team that has truly embodied a cross-section of what Atlanta is. Take a look around, ask around, when it comes to our other pro sports, most people in the city are fans of the teams of where they came from. But when it comes to MLS, Atlanta United are all our first true soccer loves.
Atlanta is a soccer city. And it’s not going to change.
To the 72,000 of us who will be in MBS tonight, let’s cheer and chant like we never have before! To the 6,000,000 Atlantan’s who won’t be there, we gone shine! See you all at the parade.
Darrel Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Micheal Parkhurst, the 17’s and every person who made this happen, Atlanta appreciates you.
Try telling the 500,000+ people who show up that it doesn’t count.
Thank you, Arthur Blank for taking a chance on something big. Safe to say it paid off.
Phil Veasley | @_ATLPhil Twitter/IG
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