On Oct. 26, Atlanta United suffered a shock defeat in the first round of the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Playoffs to Columbus Crew, losing 3-1 on penalties. Crew goalkeeper, Zack Steffen made eight saves during the 120 minutes played, then showed up with two big saves to keep Columbus in the playoff race (mlssoccer.com).
The Columbus Crew will now advance to play New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Despite Atlanta’s disappointing loss to end a fantastic season, Atlanta showed the MLS exactly what they needed.
Atlanta United, along with Minnesota United, were the two new expansion teams added to the MLS in the 2017 season. Every time an expansion team is added, it is always uncertain how well the team will do.
But, Atlanta took United by storm, even before their first game was played. Atlanta United had shown everyone that they were not going to be any normal expansion team.
Before the season began, they announced that they hired former Argentina and Barcelona manager Gerardo Daniel “Tata” Martino as their head coach. The team consisted of a selection of South American talents and homegrown American players, proving that Atlanta was planning on doing big things this season. Atlanta even hired United States National Team legend Carlos Bocanegra as their technical manager.
Atlanta United made headlines for breaking attendance records three times in one season. Yes, three times. It all started when they played at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the team’s inaugural match recorded about 55,000 people. The average attendance for the rest of the time was 48,200 people a game, the best for any MLS team ever.
Then the Mercedes-Benz stadium was built. When Atlanta hosted Orlando City at home, 70,425 people attended the match, breaking the record for the most people to watch a regular season MLS game.
Shortly after that, the record was broken again when Atlanta hosted Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC, where 71,874 fans attended the game. But after Atlanta United became the first expansion team to make the playoffs since 2009, the team broke the record for the single largest attendance for a MLS playoff game: 67,221. Atlanta United as a club sold 886,625 tickets in total this season, which is the highest total attendance number for any team in MLS history (atlutd.com).
What Atlanta United showed us is that soccer is and will be a popular sport in the United States. It may not be as popular as football or baseball, but it’s getting there. Atlanta also showed us that MLS shouldn’t be looked at as a retirement league or an easy league that anyone can play in. It’s a league that is getting better year by year, and is bringing in more fans and spectators.
Even American soccer fans who have criticized MLS in the past should reconsider after this season. With Los Angeles FC joining the league next year, I’m sure it’ll bring even more attention to the MLS. So in conclusion, MLS is not the easy, dumb, retirement league that the majority of soccer fans think it is, because it is way more than that.
Luke Stergiou can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org