Our new Greenville writer pokes holes in a long-standing Soccer ’n’ Sweet Tea tradition: hating Atlanta United FC.
I have not been writing for Soccer ‘n’ Sweet Tea for long. In fact, this is only my fourth proper article for the site. But in my short time here, one thing has become clear: Most of my fellow writers do not like Atlanta United FC.
The strange part is that there does not seem to be any valid reason for their hatred other than that the team resides in Atlanta and is closely affiliated with the Atlanta Falcons. A full explanation of their stance is found in one of the first articles our editor published on the site, available here, but that’s the extent of it.
In some ways, I can respect their dedication to the #NeverAtlanta movement. Most of these guys are Carolina Panthers fans, and it is difficult to cheer for anything connected to their rivals.
At the same time, I was once in a similar predicament, and I made a different choice.
As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan raised by a dad that is a Washington Redskins fan, I grew up with that rivalry deeply embedded in my fandom. So, in 2008, when my favorite NASCAR driver Kyle Busch began driving for Coach Joe Gibbs, I decided to put a football rivalry that had nothing to do with NASCAR aside so that I could continue to follow “my guy.”
The dislike of Atlanta United is certainly not unique to my fellow writers and a portion of SNST readers either. Dislike has come from Major League Soccer fans around the country for the last twelve months. For the most part, the insults are all the same. “The team plays in a football stadium.” “The fans are ‘plastic’.” “Everything about this team is utterly unlikable.”
So to these fans, and to my Five-Stripes-averse comrades here at SNST, I offer this simple four-point pitch for being a fan of Atlanta United.
1. A commitment to the product
From day one, Atlanta United has been committed to putting a great product on the field. You can point to all sorts of factors in this pursuit, but at the end of the day, it boils down to Arthur Blank being a passionate soccer fan.
Unlike other MLS owners who also own NFL teams (cough, Robert Kraft, cough), Blank is invested in the success of his team. He dons their crest as often as he dons the Falcons logo. He shows up to training. He comes to watch the team play at home and away. He is not an absentee owner just looking to fills his football stadium during the offseason.
Out of that passion, Blank brought in top tier talent to run the organization. Enter Carlos Bocanegra and Darren Eales. Those two then found the best man to coach this team in Tata Martino. The three of them have worked tirelessly to assemble the best roster of talent that they can within the confines of MLS roster rules.
Even the style of play is exciting to watch. Fast, pressing, and aggressive soccer focused on scoring a ton of goals. This is the soccer most Americans want to watch. The Five Stripes are even working within the system to utilize TAM, GAM, and some sneaky Green Card Magic to acquire the best players to make this scheme work to near perfection.
If you have any questions about their level of commitment to be competitive from day one, just place them side by side with their expansion counterparts at Minnesota United.
2. Fan engagement
The team has gone above and beyond to engage its fan base. I have never felt more loved and appreciated by a sports team than I have as an Atlanta United fan. The team understands in a way few major sports team do that the fan base should be an utmost priority.
The front office made decisions early on, and have continued them to this day, to involve the fans in a major way. They set aside a number (17) for the fans. They designed a secondary kit (The King Peach) as a tribute to a fan tifo from last year. They even went out of their way to create “fan-friendly pricing” on their stadium concessions.
They have also supported the growth of the fan culture in Atlanta. The staff and team have made appearances and even donated money to causes driven by the various supporters groups connected to the team. The fan culture is so amazing, that even self-professed #NeverAtlanta writers cannot help but admire it.
3. A palace for soccer
While the team began their inaugural season in the relatively intimate confines of Bobby-Dodd Stadium, it soon transitioned to the palatial venue known as Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If you have not had the pleasure to attend an event at MBS, you are really missing out.
There has been much criticism around Atlanta United playing in a “football stadium,” but having attended match days in the ATL, I can assure you that this is not your typical soccer-in-a-football-stadium situation. This venue really was designed with both soccer and football having equal consideration.
And considering the average attendance numbers of both Atlanta United and the Falcons, the better criticism might be that the Falcons play their games in a “soccer stadium.”
4. Strong troll game
I get it. Maybe none of this convinces you. Perhaps you still view Atlanta as the “bad guys” because they sit outside “Carolina” state lines. Well, let me suggest that maybe the heels have more fun. Growing up, I loved watching the bad guy pro wrestlers (heels) because they had a swagger that the babyfaces could never quite convincingly pull off.
From the front office to the fan base, everybody involved with Atlanta United have become pros at being the hated masses.
And I, for one, have learned to love and embrace it! Come to the dark side, Carolina fan. Support the most exciting team in MLS: Atlanta United FC.