It’s a team that has caught the eye of many across the world, with players who are proving to be a cut above the rest of their opponents, playing in a stadium that could be classed as one of the best in the world both in terms of their looks and the atmosphere that they create. No, this isn’t Manchester United or Real Madrid, this is Atlanta United, a team that is less than a year old and has already created more buzz in the MLS than most teams have done in over a decade.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The MLS? That’s just a league that is full of older, retired stars that are looking for one last easy paycheck. Wrong, that isn’t what that league is about anymore, it attracts younger stars due to the fact there is way more playing time in the MLS than say in La Liga or the Premier League.
Old man’s league? Not in Atlanta!
Players like Jack Harrison and Dom Dwyer both left the U.K. to start careers in the US, and now it’s looking like a good choice. Another young English player who is currently plying his trade in the MLS is Anton Walkes, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur to Atlanta United and he’s spoken about how much he loves the league and the challenge it poses.
“It’s a great quality of football. There’s been a few people who have criticized it, and that’s just a lack of knowledge really because this league is a great league with very good players” said Walkes on the standard of the league, something that he is changing with the team he now plays for. Atlanta has changed the perception of the league in the matter of a season.
The inception of the franchise
But to understand how the team has come so far, we have to go right back to the beginning, when the owner of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team Arthur Blank proposes a new MLS franchise in 2009. The plan was later removed less than a year later due to the fact the council wouldn’t fund a new stadium. Nevertheless, MLS commissioner Don Garber was trying his hardest to get a team in the city, with Atlanta being the largest metropolitan area in the US without a team in the MLS.
However in 2014 Blank announced that Atlanta would be getting a new team that will start playing in 2017, thus giving the Southeast of the US it’s second team, alongside Orlando City FC.
Players and manager
It was at this moment that Atlanta United was born, and almost immediately there was a buzz. Former Barcelona manager Tata Martino was appointed the head coach, whilst Brad Guzan of Middlesbrough was set to be the first choice goalkeeper once he had finished the Premier League season with the club, but what really made an impact was the signings of three extremely exciting players.
Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba joined for a combined total of $18 million from CA Lanus, Torino and San Lorenzo respectively. These three have made Atlanta one of the most exciting teams to watch not only in the MLS, but in the whole world. There quick passing and pace going forward means that no matter the situation, you could always bet on them to score on any attack, making them pure box office when a top team comes to town.
The crown jewel… the stadium
But when you have a good team, you have to have the facilities to match. You can’t be that exciting and play in front of 20,000 people; you need something big, something extraordinary. The construction of the Mercedes Benz Arena has made waves around the world of football, grabbing the eye on social media since the first game was played. Stadiums like this have set Atlanta apart from anyone else, and they can only continue to grow. Sure, attendances have been kind so far maybe due to the fact people want to visit the stadium itself, but couple the stadium with an exciting team that challenges for silverware every year and the fans will stay. In fact, not only will the fans stay but also more fans will come to watch the team.
What is being built in Atlanta is something to be admired. They’ve managed to lure a top manager and top players to a very young franchise, without resorting to a big name signing who won’t really offer much to the team, whilst making the team exciting to watch.
At the time of writing, Atlanta stand a really good chance of reaching the MLS Playoffs but in football, as we all know, anything can happen. But if they do reach the postseason, you’d be stupid to not give them a chance to win it all. Toronto and NYCFC will likely be the favourites in the Eastern Conference, but all it takes is one or two games where they drop points for anyone to take advantage.
Atlanta are a team to keep an eye on for any fan of football. The stadium attracts the eyes with its beauty and it’s outrageous looks, but it’s the team that hooks the people. Goals, goals and more goals will be what makes this franchise successful down the line.