The new kids have won it! In December Atlanta United FC reached the top of the mountain in Major League Soccer, winning the 2018 MLS Cup in a 2-0 result over the Portland Timbers. In just two years time they have risen through the ranks of MLS and become one of the fastest growing clubs not just in the U.S., but across the world. It helps that the city has taken a bit of a liking to them. The club routinely fills Mercedes Benz Stadium, packing in 70,000 fans for even the most routine of matches.
But all of that has been discussed ad nauseum. Here are some things that you might not know about Atlanta United FC.
10.) Their owner really loves soccer.
Much has been said about Atlanta’s owner Arthur Blank and his fortune. The co-founder of Home Depot and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons has a net worth of about $4.7 billion dollars. But Blank has shown himself to be more than just a very wealthy owner: He is also a big soccer fan and a big family man. He met his current wife, Angela Mancuga, through their kids who played on the same soccer team.
9.) Atlanta wasn’t always going to have an MLS club.
At this point it seems like a given that MLS would want to go to Atlanta. But that wasn’t always the case. Blank had originally placed a bid for an MLS club in 2008. However, due to a budget crisis in the Georgia state government that bid was withdrawn. They filed again in 2011 and faced stiff resistance. The Southeast, despite its dominance in college soccer, has been perceived to be disinterested in soccer for many years. It was a huge gamble for the league to come here. It paid off.
8.)It took more than two years to develop the club.
The myth with expansion teams is that they are created quickly with little planning or thought put into it. While that may have been true in the past things seemed to have changed. Their President Darren Eales, has been with the club since 2014 and their Development Academy has played matches dating back to the 2016-2017 season.
7.) Atlanta doesn’t win titles too often.
Prior to United claiming the Cup the last time a Atlanta professional sports team had won a title was the 1996 Atlanta Braves. Since that time fans in the area had seen the Braves hold on to faded glory for too long, the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association tread water, the Atlanta Falcons squander a big lead in Super Bowl LI and the Atlanta Thrashers of the National Hockey League pick up and leave. It is a city that has a proud athletic history but really struggled to make a dent in terms of silverware.
6.) Some very interesting names have already passed through their halls.
Setting up an expansion side is often a case of doing a bunch of things and seeing what sticks. At times the halls can be a rotating door of players, coaches, and personalities. Atlanta’s 2017 was no different. Players like Kenwyne Jones (yes, that Kenwyne Jones), Tyrone Mears (formerly of Burnley and Bolton), and Chris McCann (formerly of Wigan) have all featured for the club in their first two years. Even BBC personality Alan Green was with the club for the first season, serving as their lead broadcaster for local coverage.
5.)They haven’t always played at Mercedes Benz Stadium
File this under: Not everything goes according to plan in year one. Despite trying to have Mercedes Benz open in time for their first match ever the stadium wasn’t ready for kick-off in 2017. So the club had to improvise. For the first half of the stadium they played at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech University. They went 6-2 at their temporary stadium showing that sometimes it is not just the venue, but the players on the pitch.
4.) The Purple Lions passed on Martino
The Tata Martino-Atlanta partnership has been a match made in heaven. But it almost never came to be. Orlando City SC reportedly were interested in the former Argentina Men’s National Team manager after they had fired Adrian Heath. However, they passed on him when they were looking for a coach. Two years later Atlanta and Martino have a title while Orlando doesn’t even have a playoff win.
3.) They play the kids.
As previously mentioned Atlanta has had a Youth Academy program for close to three years. Their club in the Development Academy has already been extremely successful, finishing first in the Southeast Division in the U-16/U-17 and U-18/U-19 age groups. Players that have already come up through their system include Chris Gloster of Hanover 96, George Bello, and Andrew Carleton.
2.) They do a lot of work in the community.
Like any new neighbor Atlanta have done quite a bit to immerse themselves in the community and to be a positive part of it. That includes building free subway soccer fields, five a side pitches that were designed to give kids underserved communities the chance to play the beautiful game in a safe location.
- The club has aspirations beyond the Cup.
So they have won the Cup. Now what? More trophies and more silverware. As opposed to some clubs that will rest on the laurels of their win Atlanta seems to be building for greater heights. In the immediate future that includes the CONCACAF Champions League, which they will be a part of in February. MLS desperately wants to win that tournament and even though there will be some turnover in the squad, Atlanta looks primed to take it.