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Atlanta United may become State’s top pro team

By Walter Geiger Many folks deride soccer. They call it communist kickball. They make jokes about soccer flops and, admittedly, the flop videos are hilarious. But, like baseball pitchers deliberately hitting batters, they are part of the game. We were immersed in soccer over the Memorial Day weekend. We watched as our beautiful, athletic daughter Livia competed with her Concorde Fire team in the State Cup tournament in Columbus. These tournaments are huge economic drivers. There were no hotel rooms available anywhere. Restaurants and convenience stores were full of parents and sweaty but smiling kids in cleats. After one game, Livia and I rushed home and headed north to watch the Atlanta United battle New York City FC at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Our seats, thanks to our friends Jamie and Tonya Ogletree, were at midfield 15 rows up. The tailgating scene was similar to that in Athens for a big football game. Parking, priced at $20 and up, was at a premium. Though I have watched all the United matches on TV, even when they were broadcast only in Spanish, this was my first live game. Livia had been once before. A guy sitting two rows below me was wearing an Allman Brothers tshirt. We struck up a conversation. I thanked him for representing Gregg who had died the previous day. It turned out his aunt lived in Yatesville. He was a Georgia fan temporarily ensconced in Georgia Tech’s shrine like me. ’Only Georgia, Clemson, the Rolling Stones and Atlanta United can fill this place up,’ he quipped. The stadium was packed out. It was a very diverse crowd. There were many black and white southerners who have adopted soccer because their kids play. There were Hispanics of all varieties, Africans, Arabs, Orientals, etc. Most wore western garb but some were decked out in their native dress. Atlanta United is a fun team to watch. They go for the throat, constantly pressuring the opponent. They scored quickly and ended up winning 3-1. Their star, Miguel Almiron, got two goals and his energy fueled his teammates and the crowd. That is why, at age 22, Arthur Blank is paying him $13 million a year. Soccer is fast paced. The action stops only in the case of serious injury. Likewise, soccer fans never sit down. Their energy is palpable, particularly in the area behind one goal where the fanatics reside. That section is a sea of red, the team color. There are flags and banners – one read ‘˜ATL loves Manchester’, referring to the site of the cowardly killing of kids by a Muslim terrorist at a concert. Manchester is home to one of the top soccer clubs in the world. There is a tower. Atop it is a guy with a drum. He beats out rhythms and chants. The maniacs go nuts, chanting and singing. When Atlanta scored they erupted. It was raucous. I watched in amazement. This team will eventually move to Blank’s lavish Mercedes Benz stadium where construction delays have been the norm. They are but 2 points out of the playoffs now, having played 13 of the 34 games on their regular season schedule that runs through Oct. 22. Seven of those games have been on the road and none have been played in their true home. They are a respectable 5-5-3 and will play eight of their last 10 games in the new stadium. This collection of superbly conditioned athletes had never played together as a team before March 5. They are coming together quickly. The Braves, at this writing, are seven games below .500, have no pitching and have posted a losing record at their fancy new home. The Falcons are coming off the biggest choke job in Super Bowl history. Those teams appear to be trending down while the United are trending up. They are in a position to quickly become Atlanta’s top pro franchise which, admittedly, isn’t saying much given the city’s dismal pro sports history. I encourage you to take in a match in person to see what all the excitement is about. I think you will be impressed.

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