In a region dominated by college football, the beautiful game has drawn the interests of many sports fans throughout the southeast. In 2017, the city of Atlanta will begin their long-awaited Major League Soccer (MLS) campaign with Atlanta United FC. Atlanta’s first MLS team will be the second team conceived in the southeast in a three-year span alongside Orlando City Soccer Club (SC).
Atlanta’s first professional soccer operation began in 1994. The Atlanta Silverbacks, formerly the Atlanta Ruckus, currently play in the North American Soccer League, the second division of the MLS. The sudden surge of popularity in soccer has left the fans of Georgia wanting more.
The “MLS Atlanta” campaign took flight in 2008, but was set aside due to facility difficulties. It was launched again in 2012 upon the proposition of the construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Following an extended period of negotiations, “MLS Atlanta” was deemed a success in March 2013. The club was later named Atlanta United FC, following a mixed vote from fans.
Following the club’s birth, many questions still remained. Where would the players come from? What should be expected of the club? The team’s front office has yet to hire a coaching or training staff. As a result, player development is currently delayed. The MLS salary cap does not play “into the hands” of any team. Therefore, the youth academy is essential to the construction of a club. The idea of bringing in superstar players from foreign countries remains a possibility, but the salary cap prevents the swift formation of an overwhelming squad.
A major concern with the formation of the Atlanta MLS team, as with many other Atlanta sports franchises, is if Georgia residents will give the team the support it needs to succeed. Given attendance at other soccer events hosted in Atlanta, it seems the Peach State has already responded.
The Georgia Dome hosted the United States Men’s National Soccer Team this summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals. In a two-game event, the attendance tally reached over 70, 500. The previous record for a soccer match in Atlanta was friendly between Mexico and Nigeria in 2014 at 68, 212. The Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) have also received success of the growth of soccer in the southeast. In 2011, the average home attendance was 2, 866. In 2014, that number grew to an average of 4, 447. The difference in average attendance from 2011-2014 was approximately a 55 percent increase.
The expectations for a new team in Atlanta will be extensive. Professional sports teams in Georgia have achieved substantial success over time. The recent resurgence of that success has raised the bar once again in the Empire City of the South.