Atlanta United FC

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Atlanta United
Atlanta MLS.svg
Full name Atlanta United FC
Nickname(s) The Five Stripes
Founded April 16, 2014; 4 years ago (2014-04-16)
Stadium Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Capacity 42,500
(expandable to at least 72,243)
Owner Arthur Blank
President Darren Eales
Head coach Gerardo Martino
League Major League Soccer
2017 Eastern Conference: 3rd (tie)
Overall: 3rd (tie)
Playoffs: Knockout Round
Website Club website
Current season

Atlanta United FC is an American professional soccer team based in Atlanta, Georgia, whose first team began play in 2017 as a member of the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer (MLS).[1] The team, which was announced by the league as an expansion franchise on April 16, 2014, is owned and operated by Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. The first team plays their home games at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The reserve team, Atlanta United 2, play their home games at Coolray Field. Based on attendance, Atlanta United FC is the best supported club in MLS.[2]

History[edit]

Initial efforts to bring MLS expansion team to Atlanta[edit]

At the time the expansion was announced, Atlanta was the largest metropolitan area without an MLS franchise.[3] Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank's AMB Sports and Entertainment Group had submitted a bid for an expansion franchise in 2008,[4] but withdrew the bid in early 2009 due to state and local government budget shortfalls and Blank's inability to find partners to build an appropriate stadium for the proposed team.[5] On July 10, 2010, Dan Courtemanche, MLS's executive vice president of communications, said that despite the bid withdrawal, regular discussions with Blank regarding Atlanta's potential as an expansion market were occurring.[6]

Thrashers sale and relocation revives Atlanta expansion talk[edit]

On May 31, 2011, the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers were sold to True North Sports & Entertainment, who announced that they would relocate the team to Winnipeg and become the Winnipeg Jets.[7] The Thrashers' relocation helped re-start the efforts and talks of bringing an MLS expansion team to Atlanta.[8]

In May 2012, while the Falcons' proposed new stadium was going through the approval process, MLS Commissioner Don Garber cited Atlanta as one of three "intriguing" markets for future league expansion.[9] Additionally, when Blank presented his case for a new stadium at the Falcons' annual meeting with season ticket holders, he stated that an additional benefit of the stadium was that it could help attract a Major League Soccer franchise and potentially host World Cup matches.[10] Later that year, in November, Garber said that if the Falcons could complete plans for a new stadium, MLS would "try to figure out how an MLS team could be part of their plans."[11]

Rich McKay, Falcons president and CEO, said in 2013 that the team was "open to various options, including [its] ownership of a team or someone else owning a team".[12] Dan Courtemanche said, "We are big believers in the Atlanta market," and cited the city's growing Hispanic population and corporations that could serve as its sponsors.[12] Then, in March 2013, the city and the Falcons agreed to financing terms,[13] and in May 2013, the Georgia Department of Economic Development board approved $30 million in bonds to finance the land purchase for the new stadium.[14] The stadium was set to open in 2017 and could be configured for professional soccer.[12] Atlanta remained at the top of the list for an MLS expansion team, as Garber, in the December 2013 MLS State of the League address, emphasized that it was a goal to continue to expand in the southeast, and added, "if we can continue to advance our discussions positively with Arthur [Blank] and the [Atlanta] Falcons, we hope to be able to get a situation finalized so that could potentially be our second team. Orlando being the first, maybe Atlanta or Miami would be the second or the third."[15][16] In December 2013, Garber said the league was making progress in discussions with the Falcons and that the stadium situation was finalized.[17] Negotiations continued, as Courtemanche said in January 2014 that Atlanta "remains a great prospect for MLS expansion,"[18] and in February 2014, Rich McKay confirmed the parties were "far along in negotiations."[19]

Announcement of MLS expansion in Atlanta[edit]

Finally, on April 16, 2014, Blank announced that MLS had awarded an expansion franchise to his group to begin play in 2017. Atlanta became the second franchise awarded in the southeastern United States in five months, following the Orlando City SC announcement in late 2013. The Southeast had been without an MLS team since the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny teams were dissolved in 2001.[20]

Inaugural season[edit]

Atlanta's first regular season MLS game was played on March 5, 2017 at Bobby Dodd Stadium with 55,297 in attendance. Yamil Asad scored the first goal in team history in a 2–1 loss to New York Red Bulls.[21] A week later, the team registered its first win on the road with a 6–1 away defeat of fellow expansion team Minnesota United FC.[22] On March 18, 2017 the team registered its first win at home, beating Chicago Fire, who went down to ten men in the eleventh minute, 4–0 in front of a sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium.[23] Following its move to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the team continued leading the league in attendance and averaged more than 48,000 in its home league matches, breaking records for attendance for a non-doubleheader MLS game and average single-season attendance for a U.S. soccer team. Atlanta clinched a berth in the playoffs, becoming the third MLS expansion team to do so in their inaugural season, by finishing tied for third place in the Eastern Conference; due to tiebreaking rules Atlanta was seeded fourth. In its first playoff game, the team faced Columbus Crew and set an MLS playoff record for attendance with 67,221 spectators in attendance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After 120 minutes of scoreless action, the match was decided by a penalty shoot-out. Columbus won the shoot-out 3–1 to eliminate Atlanta.[24]

Colors and badge[edit]

An Atlanta United mural located in Decatur, Georgia

Arthur Blank stated that fans would be involved in choosing the name, logo and "a color scheme that'll work with the red and black with a little bit of gold mixed in"[25] (the colors used by the Falcons when they launched in 1966).[26]

On June 25, 2015, Sports Illustrated reported that Atlanta's expansion team would be named Atlanta United FC. The official announcement of the team's name took place on July 7.[27] Atlanta United president Darren Eales explained that the name was chosen based on a survey of the team's supporters and used words the supporters most positively related to the potential team.[28][29] Eales also stated that the Founders' Group meeting would still be held on July 7 and the logo for the new team would be unveiled.[28]

Symbols[edit]

The team's name, logo and colors were unveiled on July 7, 2015. The logo features a circle reminiscent of the city's seal and Olympic heritage with a bold "A" at the center of the circle. Behind the "A" are five black and red stripes representing the five pillars of the team: unity, determination, community, excellence and innovation.[30] The team's official colors are black (a symbol of strength and power), victory red (representing pride and passion), and gold (epitomizing a commitment to excellence).[31] The team has become unofficially known as "The Five Stripes" based on the five stripes on the team's inaugural home kits.[32]

Kits[edit]

Primary[edit]

2017–present

Secondary[edit]

2017
2018–present

Kit sponsor[edit]

On July 12, 2016 the team announced American Family Insurance as its primary jersey sponsor for the first team. The terms and length of the contract were not disclosed.[33] SunTrust is the official kit sponsor at the youth academy level.[34] The reserve team currently does not have a shirt sponsor.

Development system[edit]

Reserve team[edit]

On November 14, 2017, Atlanta United announced that they would be launching a reserve team to compete in the United Soccer League, the second division of American soccer.[35] Club president Darren Eales said that the new team was launched to "bridge the gap between our best in class academy and our First Team." The team, named Atlanta United 2, began play in the Eastern Conference of the USL in the 2018 season.

Youth academy[edit]

Atlanta United operate a youth academy that competes in the United States Soccer Development Academy.[36] The academy began play in the 2016-17 USSDA season and has seven youth teams: U-19, U-17, U-16, U-15, U-14, U-13 and U-12. Participation in the academy is free-of-charge for all players and participants are eligible to be signed to the Atlanta United first team via Major League Soccer's Homegrown Player Rule. Atlanta United has signed five players to first team contracts and two players to a reserve team contract since the academy launched.[37]

In addition to its USSDA programs, the academy also operates a soccer development program to identify players playing for local youth clubs and promote them to the academy.[38]

Stadium and team facilities[edit]

Home stadiums[edit]

Name Location Years
Bobby Dodd Stadium Atlanta, Georgia 2017 (First nine league matches of season)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium Atlanta, Georgia 2017–present
Fifth Third Bank Stadium Kennesaw, Georgia 2017, 2018; 2 matches in U.S. Open Cup

Mercedes-Benz Stadium[edit]

Capacity and atmosphere[edit]

While Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is also home to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, has a capacity of up to 83,000, the club typically curtains off the upper level of the stadium.[20] to create an intimate atmosphere and reduce capacity.[39] The team used the curtains for six of nine home matches during the inaugural season, but without curtains the stadium can hold at least 72,243 for soccer (based on team-record attendance from the July 15, 2018 Seattle Sounders FC match). To create a better match-day experience, stands are retractable to accommodate a larger field and allow better sight lines. Team owner Arthur Blank has also said, "There will never be an MLS game in Atlanta where NFL lines are shown on the field,"[3] a previous point of contention for teams that have played in stadiums primarily used for American football.

Construction delays[edit]

In January 2016, the opening of the stadium was delayed three months to June 2017.[40] The team was originally scheduled to move into Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30, 2017; however, the complexity of the eight-panel retractable roof caused another delay in the stadium's opening. As the team could not use Bobby Dodd Stadium in August due to Georgia Tech having priority,[41] the match against Orlando City was moved up one day from July 30 to 29, and two home fixtures originally scheduled to be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in August were moved to September.[42] The team's first match in the stadium took place on September 10, 2017, against FC Dallas.

Training facilities and team headquarters[edit]

In August 2015, the club announced plans for training facilities, academy facilities, and sporting headquarters in Decatur.[43] However, the results of an environmental and geotechnical feasibility studies found that the site on Memorial Drive was unfeasible and in November 2015 plans for the facility were canceled.[44] Instead, the facility was built on a 32 acre plot on Franklin Gateway in Marietta. On April 11, 2017, the $60 million facility was opened, named the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. The facility includes a 30,000 square foot building that acts as the club's headquarters and houses locker rooms for the first team, reserve team, and academy teams, a full-service dining hall, and sports science facilities including a gymnasium and two hydrotherapy plunge pools.[45] The facility also includes six outdoor training fields, including a showcase field with a stand that can seat 2,500 spectators.

Bobby Dodd Stadium[edit]

A view of Bobby Dodd Stadium, where Atlanta United played part of its inaugural season in 2017.

The first team played its home matches in the first half of the 2017 MLS season at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium due to delays in the construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.[46][47] Although the club sought a balanced home-and-away schedule during their spell at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta United did not play any home matches from March 19 to April 29 to avoid conflicts with the Yellow Jackets' spring football scrimmages.[48] According to club officials, the Georgia Dome was not considered a viable option to temporarily host the team, since delaying the Dome's planned demolition would have also delayed the completion of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.[49]

Club culture[edit]

Supporters[edit]

Atlanta United currently has four Supporter Groups identified on their homepage: Terminus Legion, Resurgence, Footie Mob, and the Faction.[50]

Terminus Legion is a supporter group that was created in March 2011 by graphic designer Matt Stigall, who wanted a way to show that Atlanta fans would support soccer despite the perception of the city as a "lazy sports town". The group was named after the name given to Atlanta when it was first settled, and its logo featuring a cow catcher and railroad ties reflect the city's history as a locomotive hub. In the days since the expansion team was awarded, its membership doubled to over 500, and in the time leading up to 2017, Stigall said the group would support "all Atlanta soccer" including the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL and at the grassroots level, and make road trips to rival Orlando City matches.[51]

Footie Mob is a tailgate group established in 2014, their name a take on Atlanta hip-hop group Goodie Mob. The group is known for pre-game tailgating and incorporating Atlanta's music culture into the supporter culture.[52]

By December 2015, the supporters of the new MLS team had already pledged to purchase more than 29,000 season tickets.[53] As of December 2017, the team had more than 36,000 season ticket holders.[54]

Attendance[edit]

On September 12, 2017, Atlanta United announced that the team had sold more than 69,256 tickets for the September 16 match against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, breaking the league record for single-match attendance. The previous record of 69,255 tickets sold was held by LA Galaxy. The game's official attendance was 70,425, making Atlanta the first MLS team to surpass 70,000 in attendance for a non-doubleheader match.[55]

On October 5, 2017, the team announced they had sold more than 70,456 tickets for the October 22 match against Toronto FC.[56] This allowed the team to break both the record for highest average attendance in a season for MLS (held by Seattle Sounders), as well as the record for highest average attendance in a season for professional soccer in the United States, which was held by New York Cosmos. The game's official attendance was 71,874, which broke the MLS single-match attendance record for a second time.[57][58]

On March 11, 2018, the team broke the league single-match attendance record for the third time, selling 72,035 tickets for their 2018 season home opener against D.C. United.[59]

On June 30, 2018, fans set another record with 71,932 in attendance, more than any other soccer game happening that day in the world, including the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.[60]

On July 15, 2018, the team again set the league single-match attendance record with 72,243 in attendance.[61] As of that date, Atlanta United now holds the top 5 single-game attendance records in MLS.

Traditions[edit]

During their inaugural season, Atlanta United introduced a ritual called the Golden Spike in a nod to the city's railroad history. Prior to the game, players and supporters sign a large golden railroad spike, which is then marched into the stadium by supporters and hammered into a platform by a local VIP. Additionally, after each game, the player voted as the game's Man of the Match hammers a spike.[62] Local celebrities that took part in the Golden Spike tradition during 2017 included hip hop artists 2 Chainz, Yung Joc, and Waka Flocka, as well as country musician Zac Brown, retired Atlanta Braves star Andruw Jones, and Atlanta basketball players Tiffany Hayes and Dennis Schröder.[63] Atlanta native rap artist Archie Eversole also participated in the Golden Spike tradition and would later compose a rap anthem for the club entitled "United and Conquer."[64][65] In 2018, notable celebrity participants have included singer T-Pain,[66] Dutch soccer legend Edgar Davids,[67] Atlanta multi-sports star Brian Jordan,[68] and boxing legend Evander Holyfield.[69]

Atlanta United also participates in many charity events. The most recent was a visit to the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to hang out with the kids in the hospital.[citation needed] The club also founded the Atlanta United Foundation that strives to make the game of soccer accessible and inclusive for individuals across the state of Georgia.[citation needed]

Ownership[edit]

Atlanta United FC operates as a component of AMB Sports & Entertainment, a subsidiary of AMB Group that includes Atlanta United, the Atlanta Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.[70]

Arthur Blank owns Atlanta United FC.

The chief owner of AMB Group is Arthur Blank, an American businessman and a co-founder of The Home Depot.[71]

Players[edit]

Current roster[edit]

As of August 20, 2018[72]
No. Position Player Nation
1 Goalkeeper Brad Guzan  United States
2 Defender Franco Escobar  Argentina
3 Defender Michael Parkhurst (Captain)  United States
4 Defender Greg Garza  United States
5 Defender Leandro González Pírez  Argentina
6 Midfielder Darlington Nagbe  United States
7 Forward Josef Martínez (DP)  Venezuela
8 Midfielder Ezequiel Barco (DP)  Argentina
9 Forward Romario Williams  Jamaica
10 Midfielder Miguel Almirón (DP)  Paraguay
11 Midfielder Eric Remedi  Argentina
12 Defender Miles Robinson (GA)  United States
13 Defender José Hernández  Venezuela
14 Defender Sal Zizzo  United States
15 Forward Héctor Villalba  Paraguay
16 Midfielder Chris McCann  Ireland
18 Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz  United States
19 Forward Brandon Vazquez  United States
20 Midfielder Chris Goslin (HGP)  United States
21 Defender George Bello (HGP)  United States
22 Defender Mikey Ambrose  United States
23 Forward Lagos Kunga (HGP)  United States
24 Midfielder Julian Gressel  Germany
25 Goalkeeper Alec Kann  United States
26 Forward Jon Gallagher  Ireland
27 Goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt  United States
28 Midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu  United States
29 Midfielder Oliver Shannon  England
30 Midfielder Andrew Carleton (HGP)  United States
32 Midfielder Kevin Kratz  Germany

Out on loan[edit]

No. Position Player Nation
31 Forward Patrick Okonkwo (HGP; on loan to Charleston Battery until December 31, 2018)  Nigeria
Forward Gordon Wild (GA; on loan to Charleston Battery until December 31, 2018)  Germany

Number 17[edit]

17 - On February 10, 2017, Atlanta United announced that the number 17 would be reserved for the fans. The number marks the year of the team's first inaugural season in the MLS. Atlanta United aims to recognize that from the very beginning, the fans, the city, and the people define the spirit and essence of this team.[73]

Notable former players[edit]

This list of former players includes those who received international caps while playing for the team. It is not complete or all inclusive, and additions and refinements will continue to be made over time.

Broadcasting[edit]

Rights to all Atlanta United FC first team matches not broadcast by MLS' national television partners are held by Fox Sports Networks. Most of the team's games are televised by either Fox Sports South or Fox Sports Southeast, which also carry team programming. A small number of matches will be broadcast on over-the-air television by WUPA in the event of scheduling conflicts with the two channels. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.[74][75]

Kevin Egan is the team's television play-by-play announcer. Former MLS defender Dan Gargan is the color commentator and Jillian Sakovits is the pre- and post-game show host and sideline reporter.[76][77]

Radio rights are held by WZGC/92.9 The Game. Commentators are Mike Conti (play-by-play) and Jason Longshore (color).[78]

Rights to Atlanta United 2 matches are held by ESPN as part of the USL's broadcast agreement. Games are streamed online on ESPN+ with Jon Nelson as the play-by-play announcer and Jason Longshore as color commentator.[79]

Staff[edit]

Technical staff[edit]

Role Name Nation
Head coach, first team Gerardo Martino  Argentina
Assistant coach Jorge Theiler  Argentina
Assistant coach Dario Sala  Argentina
Goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde  England
Fitness coach Rodolfo Paladini  Argentina
Fitness coach Manuel Malfaro  Argentina
Video analyst Damian Silvero  Argentina
Director of sports performance Ryan Alexander  United States
Head of technical recruitment and analysis Lucy Rushton  England
Head coach, reserve team Scott Donnelly  United States
Assistant coach, reserve team Rob Vanentino  United States
Academy director Tony Annan  United States

[80]

Executive staff[edit]

Role Name Nation
Owner Arthur Blank  United States
President Darren Eales  England
Chief financial officer Rob Geoffroy  United States
Vice president, technical director Carlos Bocanegra  United States
Vice president, director of soccer operations Vacant
Vice president of business operations Catie Griggs  United States

[80]

President history

Head coach history

Records[edit]

Season P W L D PTS GF GA Position Open Cup Playoffs CCL
2017 34 15 9 10 55 70 40 T-3rd (East) Round of 16 Knockout Round Not eligible
2018 32 20 6 6 66 67 39 1st (East) Round of 16 TBD Not eligible

Goals[edit]

As of October 8, 2018[81]
Rank Name Years MLS Playoffs U.S. Open Cup Total
1 Venezuela Josef Martínez 2017– 49 0 1 50
2 Paraguay Miguel Almirón 2017– 21 0 0 21
3 Paraguay Héctor Villalba 2017– 20 0 0 20
4 Germany Julian Gressel 2017– 9 0 1 10
5 Argentina Yamil Asad 2017 7 0 0 7
6 Argentina Ezequiel Barco 2018– 4 0 1 5
7 Germany Kevin Kratz 2017– 3 0 1 4
8 United States Greg Garza 2017– 3 0 0 3
United States Jacob Peterson 2017 3 0 0
United States Brandon Vazquez 2017– 1 0 2

Assists[edit]

As of October 8, 2018[81]
Rank Name Years MLS Playoffs U.S. Open Cup Total
1 Paraguay Miguel Almirón 2017– 28 0 0 28
2 Germany Julian Gressel 2017– 23 0 1 24
3 Paraguay Héctor Villalba 2017– 20 0 0 20
4 Argentina Yamil Asad 2017 13 0 0 13
5 United States Greg Garza 2017– 8 0 0 8
6 Venezuela Josef Martínez 2017– 6 0 0 6
7 Argentina Leandro González Pírez 2017– 5 0 0 5
8 Argentina Ezequiel Barco 2018– 3 0 1 4
9 United States Mikey Ambrose 2017– 2 0 1 3
Germany Kevin Kratz 2017– 2 0 1
United States Jeff Larentowicz 2017– 3 0 0
United States Darlington Nagbe 2018– 3 0 0

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