David Beckham’s plans to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami have not yet reached fruition but the South East of the US will mark the debut of a brand new club when Atlanta United kick-off their first season in the league later this week against New York Red Bulls.
While Beckham promised a ‘global’ club in South Florida at a news conference in February 2014, the former England and Manchester United midfielder has yet to even secure all the land needed for a stadium in Miami and his consortium are still searching for financial backers.
In contrast, Atlanta have a well-financed owner of their own in Arthur Blank, the businessman behind the Home Depot chain of stores and the owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
Thanks to Blank, Atlanta will play in a brand-new venue, the state-of-the-art Mercedes Benz stadium, which will be home to both the MLS club and NFL team and will open in late July.
The new MLS team announced last week that season ticket sales have passed the 30,000 mark, making them one of the best supported teams in the league — before they have even kicked a ball.
Tata Martino on board as coach
The club have hired former Barcelona and Argentina coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino to guide them in their first season and signed up some exciting young talent from South America along with some veterans with MLS experience.
Off the field, former United States captain Carlos Bocanegra, who played in England’s Premier League and the French first division, is the club’s technical director while former Tottenham Hotspur executive Darren Eales is president.
In short, pretty much every box that would need to be ticked to create a successful new MLS team has been ticked.
Atlanta wasn’t an obvious choice for expansion but the size of the fan-base shows MLS was wise to bring a franchise to Georgia.
“There is such an energy around soccer in the United States and I think people are realising that you can’t pigeon-hole certain cities, it doesn’t matter where you go now, soccer is a really growing sport,” says Eales.
Red Bulls debut
Until the new stadium is ready to host, the team will play at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, starting with Sunday’s opener against the New York Red Bulls.
Atlanta, like Miami, has a reputation as a fickle sports town, with many transplants still keeping their allegiance to their hometown teams in the main American sports.
But that situation doesn’t apply to the less established sport of soccer and Eales says the club have captured a sense of identity among Millennials and Hispanics in the city.
“What people saw as a negative is a real positive for us….on soccer because it is so new, people haven’t got that affinity yet [with out of town soccer clubs]. For those Millennials who have moved to Atlanta, Atlanta United is their team. There is a real feeling that this is everyone’s team.”