Man in the Stands

All magic for Atlanta United debut despite loss

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an Atlanta sports team held a firm lead for more than three quarters of the game and failed to win it. Any takers? OK. Well, I’m not going to drudge up or rehash any bad memories – though I guess I just did. Oh well. Instead, I want to talk about some great memories made.

Atlanta United opened up its inaugural season at Bobby Dodd Stadium Sunday night and it was magical! The loss, not so much, but the match, the atmosphere, the passion. It was all – if I may steal some wording from our brethren across the pond – bloody brilliant!

The streets of midtown/downtown were absolutely flooded between the match and Monster Jam, the final event in the Georgia Dome, but the traffic pains were well worth it.

There was an anxious, exciting energy radiating from the fans waiting to get into Bobby Dodd. Once we were all in and set our eyes on Grant Field, turned from Georgia Tech’s gold and white football field into a majestic stage for the beautiful game, that energy turned to a buzz. A buzz of chatter, a buzz of people falling over each other to yell to friends who were in attendance … a buzz of a new family being brought together for the first time.

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Before the match began, one of my friends, who is English (Hi Tom!) and has season tickets with me, turned to me and said, “Isn’t it cool to be at the very first game of a football club? This would be like 100 years ago in England.”

From that moment on the outcome didn’t matter to me – and it’s a good thing because the way we lost was borderline depressing. All that came to the forefront at that point was the experience. Knowing that I was at the FIRST EVER MATCH for a football club – OK, soccer. Whatever – that’s all that mattered.

I paid attention to the game, sure. But I was also taking in all the things around me. The interactions and conversations of people around me I didn’t know. How Terminus Legion was bouncing around from the get-go. The collective oohs, ahhs, boos and collective gasps of the crowd. The smells. It was all a part of the experience and it was the best part of the whole thing. If the team had won the match, that would have been icing on the cake that was a great sports moment.

Over 55,000 people packed into Bobby Dodd – 55,297 to be exact. It was the fourth-largest crowd at a soccer match in the world over the weekend. It more than doubled NYCFC at Orlando (25,527), which was the second highest in the MLS. Arthur Blank has brought something BIG to Atlanta with this franchise.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding when the novelty wears off and we see how many show up to the home matches.

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United went up 1-0 in the 25th minute – marking the first-ever goal in franchise history – on a cross from Tyrone Mears to a wide open Yamil Asad on the back post. It was a thing of beauty. Then, the Red Bulls drew even in the 76th before going ahead for good in the 82nd minute.

Regardless of the result, I think we put the league on notice: This city his here to support its club and the team showed everyone how good we can play, going toe-to-toe with the defending Eastern Conference champion.

Our attack looked great all night and our defending was pretty solid despite the two goals. There were a few missed opportunities on goal chances, but those things will be ironed out. There’s lots of soccer to be played.

But years from now, when I think back on that game, I don’t know if I will remember the score or whether we won or lost. I’ll remember the ambiance. I’ll remember the deafening chants of “A-T-L.” I’ll remember the raucous reaction to the first goal. I’ll remember sitting at halftime and ONLY halftime. I’ll remember being in the over-capacity crowd the first time my MLS squad took the pitch.

And I’ll never forget it.

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