As TEB continues the series of featured articles looking at the football scene in the United States, I turned my attentions to Atlanta, Georgia which has always had a rich history in the game.
Atlanta United FC is the third club in the city since the late sixties. In 1967, Atlanta Braves Vice President Dick Cecil started the Atlanta Chiefs after seeing the 1966 World Cup. Then in 1998, the Atlanta Ruckus, who were renamed Silverbacks, were founded.
The Silverbacks are still around, but in their current form are an National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club. They have a Supporters Trust which means fans can own a percentage of the club, but this is about the newest club in the city, Atlanta United.
Back in 2014 Major League Soccer (MLS) looked to expand, much like they have been doing again recently, and when they did they went for one of the least football club populated areas in the country. That is the South-East.
At the time the only top division club in the area was in Washington DC. I do not need to get a map out to show you that DC is not in the South-East. So that was a problem. Also coming online was the Orlando City franchise but another club was needed in the area for the fans.
The club is owned by the league, but the shareholder is Home Depot founder and owner of NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank.
They played their first year in the Bobby Dowd Stadium, a venue that has hosted many college football games. The South-East is well known for its college football, in fact, that was one of the problems fans and mainstream media looked at but how wrong would they be.
The club has so far always led the league in attendance, and created a culture of fandom that has surprised many. With the opening of impressive Mercedes Bank Stadium for its other tenant, the Falcons, the club was able to have its own stadium.
They have also made some really good appointments in the shape of team president Darren Eales and first team manager Tata Martino. Yes, the very same Martino who was at Barcelona and Argentina among other places. He has deep roots to South America, which has made his side a fun one to see. He has also brought in such names as Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, as well as former Aston Villa and USA international goalkeeper Brad Guzan. In fact, bringing in Barco from Independiente was a major coup for the league. Many European clubs had sniffed around on him, and still might.
Right from the off, the club was great, and took the league by storm. Their style of play and how they were attacking teams was something to see. Soon it was a talking point around the pundits that Atlanta United would change the way the league played. While that has not completely happened yet, it will in time. While Martino’s stay might not be long in the league, his impact on the nation has been amazing. Paraguay have been making enquiries about his availability, and some have wondered if he should take the currently vacant USA job.
Atlanta United is the new way to come into the league, get a big time owner and a manager with international ties, and you will fly. While not all expansion sides will play, and arrange themselves in the same manner, the smart money would be to copy their blueprint.