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Atlanta United United Atlanta

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Atlanta United United Atlanta

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Sports in Atlanta were on the rise this year with electrifying plays coming out of Atlanta’s team. No, the Falcons weren’t chucking balls up for touchdowns. No, the Hawks weren’t slam dunking on their opponents. Rather a new sport has stormed the Atlanta sports scene. Soccer. Major League Soccer came to the ATL for the first time and it was better than anyone could have envisioned.

Atlanta has a storied history with soccer that was pushed to the background of the ATL sports scene as other sports stole the spotlight. The Silverbacks were the first major soccer team in Atlanta (coined after the famous silverback featured in the Atlanta Zoo at the time), but they began to fall off in popularity over time. The Silverbacks still exist to this day, but with the rise of Atlanta United FC, they continue to be pushed into obscurity due to the lack of funding and attention for the team. They will likely disband within the next few years.

What began as an idea for a team by Uncle Arthur (Arthur Blank) would blossom into the best-supported expansion team in MLS history. Arthur Blank came into the soccer world trying to place a bid with MLS management to attempt to bring an MLS team to the A in 2009. He would go onto rescind that deal because he couldn’t receive the funding for a stadium, but the MLS commissioners didn’t turn their eyes away from what would rake in a lot of money for the league. In 2014 it was announced that a team was granted to Atlanta and it would be arriving in the 2017 season. They would begin the season playing at Bobby Dodd Stadium (Georgia Tech’s stadium). Later they would be sharing the new NFL stadium that the Falcons were debuting that same season. Originally when Atlantans heard that they would be sharing a stadium with a capacity of about 71,000 there were questions of if they would even be able to sell that many tickets for a measly MLS game. Atlanta United dispelled those worries when they revealed that only about 40,000 tickets would be sold for the home games at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The demand was much higher than anticipated.

Atlanta fans and AUFC management underrated themselves by far. They would go on to OUTSELL a Falcons game, have the HIGHEST attendance at an MLS match in the history of the league. All by an expansion team with some extremely low expectations. Atlanta would have an out of this world attendance for an MLS game at 71,874 in the final game of the season against Toronto FC.

The team would finish its inaugural season with 55 points with a record of 15-10-9 (15 wins, 10 draws, 9 losses). They would amass a total of 70 goals on the season, just 4 shy of the Supporters Shield winner Toronto FC’s total of 74. They ended in a very respectable 4th place in the eastern conference. They would go on to lose in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs against Columbus Crew SC in a penalty shootout. This was a very disappointing end to such an astounding first season.

Highlights of the Year

The “Snow Game”

The snow game came very early in this inaugural season for the Five Stripes. It also just so happened to be in a game against our MLS expansion brother, Minnesota United. They came into the league along with us in the realignment of the conferences in early 2017. This game made it quite clear that Atlanta was the big brother while Minnesota was just the little brother trying to keep up. The scoreline ended 6-1 in a snowstorm that many Atlanta players had rarely been subject to, as many players are either from local Georgia area or South America. The South American duo of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almirón were able to lead the team through the snowstorm with their bright red stripes. Martinez opened the scoring early with a goal in the 3rd minute of action and it wasn’t going to stop there. Martinez would go on to get 3 goals that game, his first of many hat tricks in the season. Almirón was able to tack on 2 extra goals with Jacob Peterson adding the last goal on a beautiful cross from Greg Garza (the only assist in the game).

Andrew Carleton

Andrew Carleton is the big story this year for Atlanta fans as this is a young player of 17 years of age. He was born and raised here in the Atlanta area. He is from Powder Springs to be exact. He has worked his way into the team and got to play in the final minutes of an MLS game this year. While this was originally meant to be fan service for the loyal fans to be able to see him in action, he actually made the most of this last few moments of the game and showed off some really good runs and playmaking, although no goals connected in his play time. This kid has serious skill on both an MLS and international level, as he played for the U-17 Men’s National Team. He is likely the future for this still very young Atlanta team, and all of Atlanta is behind him.

Julian Gressel: Rookie of the Year

Atlanta drafted Julian Gressel of Providence College in the MLS draft and he was definitely the right choice for the Five Stripes. Atlanta selected Gressel with the 8th pick in the 1st round of the MLS Draft. Gressel was able to come into the league and immediately make an impact on a team that was just as new to it all as he was.  He would go on to get a stat line of 5 goals and 9 assists throughout the season. He was able to showcase amazing ball control on the breakaway counter attacks and on the set pieces, where he arguably was AUFC’s best player at creating in the struggled upon set piece. If it weren’t for Gressel one might think Atlanta United would have had an astronomical decrease in the set piece production. Gressel was the runaway winner with nobody getting close to his 50% win in each voting category (player vote: 48%, media vote: 57%, and club vote: 56%).

This upcoming season is destined to be an interesting one with the acquisition of Ezequiel Barco from Argentina for an MLS record-breaking transfer fee of $15 million. It will be interesting to see what this club can accomplish with the new acquisitions!

About the Writer
Aaron Smith, News Editor

Aaron Smith is a student a magnet student at Kennesaw Mountain High School. He enjoys school and seeks knowledge in as many fields as possible. For example,...

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