by Jeffrey Farek
In front of a sell-out crowd for their inaugural match in Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, the newly created Atlanta United FC lost to New York Red Bulls 2-1, blowing a 1-0 lead in the last 15 min of the contest. Red Bulls, the winner of the Eastern Conference last season, had stolen a win on opening night.
There was still plenty to be excited about. Brenner Hess, a second year pre-pharmacy student, was at the opening match. “The atmosphere was amazing. What I liked a lot was how they responded.”
The next week in the snow, Atlanta United won over Minnesota United 6-1, the most goals scored in a game by an expansion team in their inaugural season. The fans also responded. The Five Stripes returned home to another sell-out crowd for the third game, a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Fire, not deterred by the loss opening night.
With that result Atlanta United has already tied two MLS records. They have tied the record for most goals by a team in their first three games to start the season. Five of those belong to Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez, a record for a player in his first three league games.
Led by Argentinian head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the Five Stripes deploy an exciting, attacking style of play, putting players out wide to open up space in the inside. Martino, formerly the head coach of Barcelona FC, has put his imprint on the team. Atlanta’s three designated players (DPs) are all South Americans in their early 20s who have not reached their prime, but are already showing massive potential. Each team gets three DPs, players whose salaries are not included into the team’s salary cap. This how superstars like David Beckham and Kaka are able to come to the MLS, while keeping the league competitive.
Instead of splashing for an established superstar, Atlanta United went the opposite direction, grabbing three young players. The idea is to be better in the future, instead of spending money on a player who will retire in two to three seasons.
Having the talent is just one aspect of a franchise, but Atlanta United FC has come at the perfect time for Atlanta sports. With the recent success of the Hawks and then Falcons just last year, the Atlanta fan base has been more involved and excited now than in past years.
Nathan Bryant, a second year accounting major, sees this Atlanta United team in a slightly different way than other Atlanta franchises. “There are a lot of transplants living in Atlanta who have attachments to the teams from where they’re from. But because the MLS is a newer league, those passions aren’t as strong to those teams.”
According to this chart, 37 percent of metro Atlanta residents are not originally from the state of Georgia. Those people have allegiances to their teams from back home, giving Atlanta sports a bad reputation, as many local residents root for certain away teams when they come to town. However, unlike other leagues, the MLS was founded in 1993 and has grown tremendously in popularity in the last decade. Those non-native Georgians living in the metro area may support their hometown team, but the percentage is most likely lower, as there are fewer attachments to that specific franchise.
Hess agrees, but is hesitant to say the fans will continue to be as passionate in future seasons. “Right now Atlanta United is riding a hype train. We just don’t know how big it is and how long it’ll last.”
The Five Stripes will begin play in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30 against Orlando City.