12/11/18 - Atlanta's professional sports franchise history began with the transplantation of the Milwaukee Braves in 1966, followed by the start up Atlanta Falcons and later relocation of the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta's Chiefs brought soccer, but the fan base wasn't ready quite yet, nor for the later indoor arena club. Hockey came, got hot, melted and left with the Atlanta Flames leaving for more northern climes, and lights were out on the Atlanta Knights only a few seasons after they were lit.
Atlanta's first major league soccer franchise, the Atlanta Chiefs, won the National Soccer League (NSL) Championship in 1968. Georgia's capital city would then go for 27 years before "America's Team" and then Ted Turner's Atlanta Braves won their first World Series in 1995, and now, 23 years later, our Atlanta United has just won the Major League Soccer (MSL) Championship Cup. Our Atlanta Loserville curse is finally officially lifted.
Now a top ten metropolitan statistical area, Atlanta is not the city or market with the longest losing streak, nor the longest streak of non-championship winning...but the Loserville label has stuck and stung over time, as combining all the seasons, play-offs, pennant series and titles attempted by the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Flames, Thrashers and Knights, Atlanta only one national championship once out of 175 seasons.
And the challenge was further aggravated by our Atlanta Falcons painful NFL Super Bowl loss, as well as back to back clincher losses to another "Big A" team, hailing though from Alabama, taking on and then taking down the SEC's Georgia Bulldogs. Not officially an "Atlanta team," however the Bulldog Nation's fan base of nearly 100,000 metro Atlanta alumni almost makes them so.
Team owner, Arthur Blank began looking into an MSL soccer franchise in 2014, before finishing construction on his showplace, Mercedes Benz Stadium. The Atlanta United were supposed to open the stadium, however construction delays moved roughly half of their inaugural season in 2017 to Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium. I have to mention that Bobby Dodd has never looked quite so grand, with its stands filled to capacity and every level and concourse draped in red and black.
Our Five Stripes fast built out a large family following. An MSL soccer gameday outing is comparatively affordable, at a small fraction of the cost of every other major league franchise. And Blank's acquisition of the MSL team originally had as much to do with 18 more home game days and the resulting parking, concession and merchandising revenues as it did with bringing soccer back to the ATL.
Surprising most, including the team's owner, within only a few home games, Atlanta United jerseys, colors and fanatic groups like the Footie Mob, Terminus and others made each home game a spectacle with the electric energy of a long-established franchise on a winning streak. The talent of the team certainly helped, as the young crew of 18 is a small United Nations, with most players hailing from other countries. Yet at each game there is a surprisingly strong and patriotic moment, as the players, most of whom speak English as their second language, all stand with their hands on their hearts at attention during performance of our national anthem.
As with our 1995 World Series champs, the Braves were welcomed home after beating back a strong challenge by the Cleveland Indians, with a massive parade down Peachtree Street, a perfect stage setter for the Centennial Olympic Games yet to come. The United will also have a champion's parade down Peachtree, followed by a fan celebration in the Home Depot Backyard, adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center and MB stadium, attended by dignitaries including Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms.
Savor these moments. United Coach Gerardo Martino is departing the team, MLS League MVP Josef Martinez, also the league's leading scorer and mid-fielder and the team's 'Charlie Hustle' and sometimes hot dog, Miguel Almiron, will reportedly not be returning. American, and team captain, 34-year old Michael Parkhurst, has also not yet had his contract renewed for next season, though negotiations with the team continue.
Whether a one-time wonder, or the beginning of an MSL team dynasty remains to be seen, but for now, let's just all celebrate the glow and the end of the curse. A pretty nice holiday gift to wrap up the year in a town more than once compared to Mudville.