When I was in school at Georgia Tech Bobby Dodd Stadium, the football stadium on campus, had artificial turf and was more or less indestructible. So Georgia Tech didn’t care much that us students used it during the offseason. When I was a freshman, we would have pickup soccer games on the field. I was never a particularly great soccer player, I stopped playing organized soccer when I was 8, but I did enjoy playing a lot. I would run up and down the field and look up at the stands and wonder what it would sound like if they were full of chanting cheering fans.
Some twenty odd years later, this little dream became real. Atlanta has a real soccer club playing at the highest tier in the United States. Atlanta United originally intended to start their season at the new gigantic cavernous Mercedes Benz Stadium, but it’s not finished yet. So, the first half of the season is at my old stomping grounds, Bobby Dodd Stadium. My awesome wife bought me tickets to the first three games of the season at home so I was there to witness history in the making.
The first game was already going to be a special event but it was made even better when my friends, the Hampsons, traveled from New Jersey to stay with us and also go to the game. Atlanta United would play their team, New York Red Bulls, in the first ever MLS game in Atlanta. Predictably, the whole night was a little bit of a logistical mess as everyone tried all this for the first time but if it hadn’t been Adriene and I wouldn’t have experienced the quintessentially Atlanta moment of getting into an Uber car while the driver was listening to Migos’ “Bad and Boujee.” In a city that was still stinging a little bit from a catastrophic Falcons loss in the Super Bowl, I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that New York came back and defeated Atlanta United, but it didn’t matter. The wheels had been set in motion and 55,000 people showed up for a soccer game. It should be noted the only clubs that had more people at their game that weekend were Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United, pretty good company.
Since then, I’ve gone to two more games. One with my good friend Genay and one with my daughter Grace and both were a lot of fun. The crowd is finally starting to settle into a unique identity and chants are starting to form. It’s a strange thing to be in a totally familiar location with a totally unfamiliar crowd. This is not Tech alumni and students (though there are certainly some of us in the crowd) and this is just a temporary home for them, (Sorry it’s not all cushy seats and air conditioning. We’ve been using this thing for 104 years. It’s just FINE.) but it is a totally new thing and it is admittedly pretty exciting to be part of something new. We’re a city with a bruised ego right now. The Braves are still painfully rebuilding, the Falcons are recovering from an epic fail in the Super Bowl, and the Hawks are the same old Hawks. It’s good time for a new team to step into the scene in Atlanta. I don’t have high expectations, a competitive team that fights for a playoff spot would be nice and it looks like that’s what we’re going to get. I can’t wait to see how this all moves a couple blocks downtown in September.