Atlanta United supporters received some disappointing news in January when Arthur Blank announced that Mercedes-Benz Stadium would not be completed on time. Instead, the scheduled opening would be pushed back to June 1st, 2017. That's approximately three months after Atlanta United is supposed to begin their inaugural season in MLS.
Despite the delay, Blank stated that he expected the club to still play all 17 of their home games at the brand new state of the art stadium. This would be accomplished by United beginning their first season with an extended road trip until the stadium is ready for play.
Supporters were understandably upset at what this meant for them and the team's chances at having a successful first season. The home opener will be pushed back, there's nothing that can be done about that and it's something everyone will just have to accept. But what about the on-field repercussions of a potential three-month road trip to start the season?
Expansion teams already have a difficult time in their inaugural season. It's been well-documented that the Seattle Sounders are the last first-year club to make the playoffs back in 2009. So, even when circumstances are ideal, the odds are stacked against Atlanta United. But how will adding a long stretch on the road affect the team?
Thankfully we don't have to look far to examine the consequences of such a scheduling structure. Due to stadium renovations, Toronto FC began this season with an eight-match stretch on the road. Their travels took them all over North America as they began in New Jersey, crossed the border to New York, ventured west to Kansas City and Colorado, headed back to the Northeast to New England and Washington D.C., made a stop in Montreal, before finishing their grueling trip all the way out in Portland.
That's quite the exhausting trek and that only covers two months, not the three that Atlanta United are expected to endure.
How did Toronto FC perform on the field in this span of matches? Three wins, three losses, and two draws. 11 points from eight matches which places them third in the Eastern conference standings as the finally head home.
It doesn't take an expert analyst to spot the differences from Toronto FC's roster and overall predicament and those that Atlanta United will likely have. They likely won't have a superstar player like Giovinco to lean on or a reliable captain like Michael Bradley to guide the ship. But there are some things that United could benefit from just like Toronto have.
This feature on Toronto's long road trip paints the picture of a team that has bonded together. One that has had to come together to fight for every point they can muster on the road.
Atlanta United will likely not have the most talented roster and they for sure won't have much chemistry to begin the season. A long road trip could force them to develop that chemistry. Instead of going home to their comfy apartments and/or homes they'll be forced to room together in hotels and go out to eat at restaurants. Small team activities like the ones shown in the video go a long way in developing that chemistry.
Results may not be pretty early on for the club in 2017, but a long road trip could be a blessing in disguise for the rest of the season. Once the long stretch of home matches arrives, the team could be a much better place organically because of the bonding experiences they will have had.
This, of course, assumes that everything goes according to the current plans. Should one screw get misplaced during construction and a further delay occurs, it could be catastrophic for the club's plans in more ways than one. But that's another discussion for another day if that unfortunate day should arise.
For now, we have to go under the assumption that everything is on track for the June 1st opening and the three-month road trip is still a go. And if it is, it's not the doom and gloom scenario that some think it might be. It could end up helping the team's overall chemistry, thus improving them for the rest of the season.