By staff writer
Nothing says success like the groundbreaking emergence of the MLS Atlanta United Football Club. In just its second season of existence, the United has grown to tower over all other teams in the MLS and has broken records for both the city of Atlanta and major-league soccer.
More than 73,000 fans showed up to watch the 2018 MLS Cup, held in December at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This attendance was nearly 20 percent higher than at the 2017 MLS Cup, which hosted roughly 61,300 fans. With their 2-0 win against the Portland Timbers, the United clinched the city’s first major professional sports championship since the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and became just the second expansion team in MLS history to reach the finals within its first two seasons.
Supporting the largest fanbase of any franchise in the MLS, as well as being the highest-ranked team in the league, the United is currently the most valuable soccer team in the U.S., worth nearly $330 million.
Although the United had a rough start to the regular MLS season with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, the team was not discouraged and focused on improving its performance. Atlanta ended the season with 21 wins and 7 losses (up from 15-9 in the 2017 regular season), going cleat-to-cleat with many of the league’s top teams, including the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and D.C. United.
But Atlanta’s 2018 achievements did not stop there. United forward Josef Martinez proved to be the top scorer in the MLS, collecting 31 goals, 10 game-winning goals and eight penalty kicks during the regular season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy was runner-up, with 22 goals. The wide margin between the leading scorer and the number two was due to more than just team chemistry. Atlanta United Coach Gerando “Tata” Martino noted that there was a solid plan in place to achieve these winning numbers. “They never modified any part of the plans,” he said. “The most satisfying thing to me is that we followed the plan.”
In addition to improvements on the field, the Atlanta Football Club has seen massive growth over the past two years. Arthur Blank, billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, funded $70 million worth of expansions for the team in 2016 and placed the United in the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Blank’s NFL Atlanta Falcons also play. Since then, the United has sold more than 1 million tickets (by far the highest number in MLS history) and is responsible for one-quarter of total MLS merchandise sales (with Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron being among the top-selling jerseys in the league).
Things are looking good for not only Atlanta United but also for Atlanta professional sports in general. Atlanta has been named a potential host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and the entire metro area is gearing up for Super Bowl LIII, which will be held in February 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Focus: Atlanta is excited to see what’s in store for the United and Atlanta’s other superstar sports teams in 2019!
For more information on the Atlanta United, visit their website at https://www.atlutd.com/.