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The inaugural Major League Soccer regular season for Atlanta United FC kicks off tomorrow evening, over here at sold-out Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, versus the New York Red Bulls (7:30 PM Eastern, FS1 nationally, 92.9 FM in ATL).
In the NBA offseason, my sports dollar historically gets split up between the WNBA Dream and the Atlanta Silverbacks, a formerly professional soccer club playing a few levels down from the top-tier MLS. While I've watched a lot of local soccer, it's always been just for casual summertime fun, without really learning much more about the sport itself.
I'm hoping my immersion will become more serious with the MLS in town. I've already read more about "Tifo"s and 4-2-3-1 formations and "tiki-taka" than I ever thought I'd care to know. I'm hoping a few vastly more knowledgeable Squawkers will chime in during the course of this season.
Around many parts of town, you'll find there's a huge build-up of support for #ATLUTD; flags flying from homes and gardens, merchandise from the Atlantic Station team store flying off the shelves.
Naturally, the excitement dies down once an expansion team starts losing LOTS of games. However, there are quite a few prognosticators comfortable with the notion that this outfit is not only going to compete well in its first year together, but even has a chance to make the MLS playoffs. It's not unprecedented; the Chicago Fire was the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in its first year of operation back in 1998.
Stuff to Know:
* It's Arthur Blank's foray into a whole other brand of football. The Falcons owner championed the expansion of MLS Soccer to the ATL, originally in 2008, but more earnestly in 2012, when local momentum built to construct a multi-purpose stadium suitable for both pro football and pro soccer.
* The team's Training Ground and headquarters is slated to open next month, in Marietta.
* Along with Atlanta United, Minnesota United will expand the MLS to 22 clubs this season. Atlanta will compete in the MLS Eastern Conference alongside the Red Bulls, NYC FC, Chicago, Columbus, D.C. United, Montreal, New England, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Toronto. Their regular season schedule runs through mid-October. [ https://www.atlutd.com/schedule ]
* When not airing nationally, Fox Sports South/Fox Sports Southeast will carry many ATLUTD games. Spanish-language broadcasters Univision Deportes and Unimas will air a handful of games during the season as well. 92.9 FM is aiming to become the flagship radio station, but is running a 3-hour pregame show in the interim. [ http://www.dirtysouthsoccer.com/2017/2/21/14684738/atlanta-united-tv-schedule-2017-time-full ]
* British-born, US-collegiate former All-American star Darren Eales serves as the team's President. He was previously an executive with the London-area side Tottenham Hotspur FC.
* The "Technical Director" (GM) of the team is Carlos Bocanegra, a former MLS Rookie of the Year and two-time MLS Defender of the Year winner as a player. He was also a six-time captain of the USA Men's Soccer team.
* Former Argentine midfielder Gerardo "Tata" Martino is the Head Coach. He briefly managed FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi's Argentinian national team, which reached the final of 2015 and 2016's Copa America tournaments before losing on penalty kicks.
* Team captain is defender Michael Parkhurst, a former Wake Forest star who was the 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year and 2007 MLS Defender of the Year. Before getting traded, Parkhurst previously played for Columbus, where he was an All-Star back in 2014.
* Starting at goalkeeper is Alec Kann, a Decatur product. I got to see him a couple years back when he was with the Charlotte Eagles in the USL. He broke into MLS with Chicago in 2013, and was acquired via the MLS Expansion Draft from Sporting Kansas City.
* MLS announced this week they will expand team rosters from 28 to 30, allowing teams to designate two spots for homegrown talents, like Locust Grove's 16-year-old Chris Goslin [pictured up top] who come up through the team's youth system.
* Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host its first MLS event on July 30, with Atlanta United facing off with Orlando City SC. Its estimated capacity of 40,000 doubles that of most MLS clubs. In the meantime, fans are encouraged to park at Atlantic Station (off 17th Street) and catch a free gameday shuttle over to nearby Bobby Dodd (off 10th Street), which hosts the team's first 8 home games. [ http://atlanticstation.com/2017/02/16/atlanta-united-game-day-shuttle/ ]
* No sport has fan clubs as dedicated and fervent as those in pro soccer, and ATLUTD has several. Most prominent is @curtmcgirt's Terminus Legion, who have a strong presence at soccer games all over the area. Other fan clubs include Resurgence, Faction, and my favorite name by far, Footie Mob. [ http://terminuslegion.com/ ] [ https://footiemob.club/ ]
* The easiest way for me to catch up on the team's ongoing activities and news is through SB Nation's dedicated team site, Dirty South Soccer. [ http://www.dirtysouthsoccer.com/ ]
Here's a taste of what some experts are saying about this club's prospects in its first season:
Just watching the MLS Cup and wondering if anyone has heard any news/rumors about the supposed MLS soccer team Blank is trying to get to Atlanta. Seems it is all but guaranteed as it can get without an official announcement.
I heard the plan is for the team to share the new Falcons stadium. Anyone know anything else? Any names getting tossed out there? Will they basically absorb the Atlanta Silverbacks brand, or keep two separate pro soccer teams in the same town?
I enjoy watching the occassional match when I can catch one on TV, but don't have any particular team I pull for.
I love the Silverbacks (shameless plug: the NASL's Soccer Bowl will be here in November) and would miss the heck out of Silverbacks Park. But as long as Arthur Blank's behind this effort, I suspect this would turn into a nice draw at the new stadium by 2018.
What would you prefer as a name for an Atlanta MLS team? I can't really get with the Sporting/FC/Real/United names. I like "Aliens," but for various reasons I know that would never go over well.