The journey of Atlanta United from being a concept in the mind of Arthur Blank all the way to the 2017 Major League Soccer season hit its first major bump in the road last week. It was announced by Blank that development of his $1 Billion super stadium will be delayed for three months, meaning Atlanta United will be without a home for the first three months of their inaugural season.
The club's entrance into MLS had been going along as smoothly as possible until this unfortunate news dropped. It was inevitable that something negative would come along to deter Atlanta United's first season. If it hadn't been this, it surely would've been something else.
It's very likely that the team will be forced to begin their first ever season on the road for three months. It'll be an obstacle for the franchise as whole to overcome. The first season in the league was always going to be a difficult task. The Seattle Sounders are the last expansion club to make the playoffs back in 2009. Every team since has tried and failed to make it to the postseason. Needless to say, expectations for United's first season are going to be low from a neutral perspective.
An inaugural season for any club is about establishing an identity and setting yourself up for the future. Atlanta United have done an excellent job so far it creating their identity. One doesn't have to look too far to see how an expansion club can succeed in their first season and yet not have great on-field results. Orlando City's 2015 season has to be considered a massive success considering the amount of support they garnered from fans and their community. They did so while playing their entire season in a temporary home.
It doesn't matter when or where Atlanta United play their home matches. It should not affect the community's passion for this brand new professional soccer club in the city. If you were excited about the club's potential before this news dropped, there's no reason you shouldn't be excited and ready to do anything to help out after it.
It's not extraordinary for clubs to have extended road trips to allow for construction or stadium redevelopment. Toronto FC (2015), Sporting KC (2011), and the Chicago Fire (2006) all began their seasons with long road trips, so the precedence has been set. It's up to everyone involved with the club from the front office, the future manager and players, and the supporters to be resilient during this stretch of matches. Sports are nothing but a series of adversities and triumphs. It will be a long and tough patch for the brand new club, but it will come out from the other side stronger for it.
If the club had started in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on time and experienced the natural growing pains any new club does, it would've been demoralizing just like it is for all the clubs who have failed to make the playoffs in recent years. Atlanta United now have an opportunity to write-off their early season struggles with their long stretch of road matches and use their eventual move into the big stadium in June as a springboard to a successful first season.
This stadium delay is the first mark on an otherwise clean record for Atlanta United on their journey to 2017. Right now it seems like terrible news for the club to delay the grand opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it's not a crutch that anyone in the organization should be looking to lean on. When the matches finally begin in March of 2017 it'll be about the roster that the club and its manager have put together and how they perform on the field. Distractions and stadium delays will be just a footnote in a historic first season for Atlanta's very own MLS club.