The Five Stripes’ first round home playoff loss to the Columbus Crew might have left fans with unusual feelings unfamiliar to supporters of Atlanta United. The mighty Kings of the South have fallen. The team that set U.S. professional soccer attendance records, the squad that had the best expansion season this side of Cheatin’ Bob, a team that completely broke the mold for what an expansion team in MLS could be, a side that scored 6 and 7 goals against opponents in its first year, a team that finished fourth in all of MLS, that drew twice with the best team in the league and held the 2016 MLS Cup Champions scoreless had lost in a penalty shootout.
Not a game.
A penalty shootout.
NOT A GAME.
A (I’ll stop)...
Those feelings of doubt, fear, shame, humility... that maybe Atlanta had too much swag - the idea that maybe the players’ boots had run out of goals when they were crushing teams to open Mercedes Benz Stadium - that maybe the analysts who inexplicably said Atlanta United, by not beating any playoff teams down the stretch and that winning against scrubs and fringe playoff contenders in September, was proof that it was a team that was so good that it was bad (in a truly weird premise that seems like a cheap shot without a real basis) were right.
They’re wrong. It’s a gross feeling, let’s do something about it.
Close your eyes - wait - open them so you can read this (if you kept your eyes closed too long and fell asleep and are just now waking up again, keep your eyes open from now on).
Visualize those feelings. Roll them up into a little ball.
Imagine yourself walking up to a garbage can. A dumpster. A window. Your twitter account. Orlando City Stadium. A Facebook page of your choice. The Georgia Dome immediately before it is going to be demolished. Anywhere you would fell comfortable depositing refuse.
Now, picture yourself as your spirit animal (mine is Batman), open your heart chakra, and send those feelings straight to the worst place you can imagine (for me I think of a desolate, hopeless, dysfunctional wasteland. I call it Orlando).
Atlanta United and its fans have a lot to be rowdy and proud of beyond not being Orlando City or the vandals who support them (which, yeah making the playoffs in year one while Orlando finished their third season losing to Philly by 100 goals is extremely awesome and would be enough to fill me with more pride than Jozy Altidore has at being an overpaid striker who can’t get motivated enough to play well in a game that determines if his country will be represented in the Men’s World Cup, but some how I have even more fulfillment than that).
Sure there are the records Atlanta set and broke, but there’s a lot more. There is the incredible goal differential the team put together as an expansion team with a 20 year old playing out of position in defense and attackers that had never played together before. Yes, the team’s manager disproved the notion that a foreign coach with no MLS experience could succeed in the league. And then there’s the fact that the team has one of the best youth academies in the country. Don’t forget that the front office could run a team in any of the top five leagues in the world. There are MLS teams looking at Atlanta United that have to catch up to the club. It’s Atlanta’s first year in the league, it makes you wonder what their excuse is for being so far behind.
None of this even begins to mention that Atlanta United showed that stereotypes which had always been wrongly held about Atlanta being a bad sports city were wrong. There were even amazing and somewhat hyperbolic articles about the team that proclaimed Atlanta United was soccer city USA.
A team playing a sport that was never supposed to be popular in this city accomplished that.
Atlanta did all this while overcoming some unique challenges that few teams in MLS have faced. United played in two different home stadiums and started the year on a pitch so narrow it made Tito Villalba look slow. The Five Stripes also had to re-schedule games to have a congested slate of matches that would have made most expansion teams disintegrate with little hope of making the playoffs. In the face of these obstacles, Atlanta turned two stadiums into the biggest, loudest, most well attended venues to watch soccer this side of El Azteca and set records on the way to making the post-season. Of course, this says nothing of the fact that the team’s best goalscorer missed half the year.
What’s listed above is super impressive and yet I have probably forgotten somethings that should be on it.
This all happened between the months of March and October. It took 7 months for Atlanta to achieve all this. Atlanta United was born, took over the league, became the most popular team in MLS (with fans very knowledgeable about soccer, might I add dear readers), developed a cohesive, fun to watch, attacking style of play, had an imposing record, was the 4th best team in the table, has an MVP candidate that is on his way to a top European league one day, and a shoe in for Rookie of the Year on the roster. In 7 months.
Atlanta United broke the league, it showed that an expansion season doesn’t have to resemble an awkward teenager coming to a new school with hopes and dreams only to get bullied and shoved in the trash can for years until one day it gets bit by a radioactive spider and finds the right formula for success after a painstaking process of trial and error, and error, and error. Atlanta United showed that a first year team could rule the school from day one; the Five Stripes stepped onto the field and were the freakin’ X-Men.
What’s more, Atlanta United made it look easy. I mean, the team scored 6 goals in its second game and didn’t really stop all year.
There will be those who will throw shade at Atlanta United now that the team is out of the playoffs. They’ll point to losses against Minnesota and DC United, and DC United, and DC United to try and denigrate Atlanta’s achievements. There might be odd claims made about the style of play the team developed or doubt cast on Tata Martino as a manager in big games. These straws will be grasped at and these hot takes will be bellowed about a team in its expansion season.
Don’t suffer those fools and don’t let their petty belittlement let you or any other Atlanta United fan feel ashamed. It took most MLS teams years upon years to fail as impressively as Atlanta United did in its historic first season in the league.
The preseason starts in February and March will be here soon enough. Other MLS teams should be completely terrified at what Atlanta United will look like by spring with the team having an offseason free from the responsibility of building a roster nearly from scratch. With the full force of the front office bearing down on the changes that Atlanta needs to make for next year, a team that set records when it should have been struggling is only going to get stronger.
So feel proud and stay rowdy. 2018 is coming and it can only get better from here.