It all started in March this year when Atlanta United FC were one of two expansion sides to join Major League Soccer (MLS). They took to the field in their opening home game in front of a staggering 55,000 fans. This was by the far the largest crowd on MLS opening weekend. Since then they have boasted a 46,000 fan game average, making them the best-supported team in the league.
What makes this level of support more extraordinary is that this part of the USA is not known for its love of the “beautiful game”. Atlanta is the capital of Georgia and located in the deep south and not on either coast. Atlanta hosted the 1996 summer Olympic games and the Centennial Olympic Park is still the centerpiece of the city. It is also home to the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves – the oldest operating sports franchise in the country.
It is clear that traditional American sports already thrive in Atlanta. This is also the case with Atlanta United who find themselves in serious contention for a play-off place and outside challengers to win the MLS Cup outright. The latest sports odds on redbet have Atlanta to win the cup at 23.00 with favorites Toronto at 4.5. So why have Atlanta United become such a hit so quickly?
Atlanta’s immediate success story
A number of factors play into Atlanta’s instant success story. Let’s start with the owner’s vision and perseverance in getting Atlanta United this far. Arthur Blank has pursued bringing a soccer team to these parts since 2007.
The newly finished Mercedes-Benz Stadium will seat 42,500 fans and United have managed to pre-sell over 35,000 season tickets. The new stadium and this level of support were instrumental in the MLS allowing Atlanta into its division. The hottest ticket in MLS is for the club’s first match in the new stadium – scheduled for the 10th September against FC Dallas.
A competitive team that plays attractive football from the get-go has also been hugely important to the success of Atlanta. By recruiting Gerardo “Tata” Martino as head coach, they found someone with real pedigree. They also brought in younger star players like Miguel Almiron, Greg Garza, and Michael Parkhurst to implement a high-intensity attacking style of play. By shying away from recruiting older international stars in search of their last fat paycheck has helped galvanize a younger set of fans.
A broad ethnic mix is the recipe for success at Atlanta
Traditionally, big coastal cities located further North have been the birthplace of the more established teams. This is largely due to the arrival of large immigration populations whose respective nations live, breathe and bleed soccer. It was only natural they take a foothold in these burgeoning coastal cities.
Atlanta may not be situated on either coast but it does boast the world’s busiest airport which has led to a fast-growing multicultural city. It also has the 9th largest metropolitan area in the US and a progressively diverse population. Attend a home game and you will hear numerous languages being spoken by cultures where soccer is the number one sport. The strength of this ethnic melting pot will persist in Atlanta.
So far in the club’s very short history, fans have endured uncomfortable seating and long queues in the scorching Georgia heat to watch games at their temporary home – The Bobby Dodd college stadium. The impending move to the new stadium will only help matters and one gets the sense the young fan base is real and sustainable. An ambitious owner, new stadium, knowledgeable coach and exciting football team mean Atlanta United has been built on solid foundations.
Whether the team’s initial success will stand the test of time is anyone’s guess. This is a nation of sporting franchises that frequently move from one state to another in search of greener pastures. Getting to the playoffs and a decent end of season showing would only heighten the buzz around Atlanta United FC!