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Atlanta United is here, stop trying to understand it, and accept it

Atlanta United, like the city, is misunderstood.

Dave Williamson Photography

I moved to Atlanta in the fall of 2009 for school and I never left. Well, there was a time I did leave for 15 months, but that’s another conversation.

Anyway, I’m a transplant. There are a lot of them here in Atlanta. Most of them came before me, and a lot of them have come after me. This is just the way the city operates now. There are people who’ve spent their whole lives there, mixed with those who, like me, found home here, and those just along for a short ride.

It’s a weird mix, with an even weirder underlying culture. Not a lot of people truly “understand” Atlanta, even those who live here. I don’t claim to fully understand this weird melting pot of culture, races, and ideas, but I’m glad I get to spend every day here. I learn something new every day here and I genuinely feel bad others don’t get this experience.

Others like to talk about Atlanta though, that’s for sure. They talk about the traffic, about how a bunch of streets have the word “Peachtree” in it, and how there is a lot of crime. Some of those things are definitely not wrong, but until you’ve experienced it you don’t get Atlanta. Also, for a lot people here for a hot second they don’t get it. There are reasons for everything, and understanding reasons usually requires higher order thinking and a lot of effort to contextualize. Accepting that inequality in this city exists because people forced it to exist is a lot harder than saying “our apartment [on North Ave] is in kind of a sketchy area at night” (I’m paraphrasing the person, but still its uninformed, bad opinion).

Atlanta United plays its first game on Sunday night. I am a season ticket holder. I’m a huge New York Red Bulls fan. Rob Usry is probably the main reason I have season tickets.

Back to the complication.

How did this happen? Well, like I said I’m a transplant. I’m from North New Jersey (important distinction) and a sports fan. Living in Atlanta in the internet age means I still follow the Rangers, the Knicks, the Mets, and the Red Bulls. Atlanta has afforded me limited access, or did at one time RIP Thrashers, to the first three of those teams, but certainly not the last.

I write about the Red Bulls online in a freelance capacity, in a way to stay connected to the team and to add a little extra cash to a journalist’s salary. I got this position through work I did at the SBN Red Bulls site Once a Metro (with some of the finest people on the internet running it, shout out Austin Fido), which allowed me to meet Rob Usry.

Rob was tasked with starting a website for Atlanta United on the SBN platform. He was given a wordpress blog and he called in 21 Peach Street. He brought on me, and another person, who I need to shout out for helping me become a better soccer writer, Brendan Joseph, and we found some writers and grew something. That website is now Dirty South Soccer and its much bigger than I ever could have imagined it.

It’s been an honor helping Dirty South Soccer grow organically, and it parallels a lot of how I’ve seen this team grow. There’s been a lot of skepticism about this city, some of it deserved, some of it really, really not deserved. I’ve seen a lot of takes about how Atlanta United will be good, bad, should have happened, shouldn’t have happened, has a good name, has an awful name and everything in between.

These opinions caused me to have every different emotional response possible, from happiness to anger to sheer confusion. Eventually though I realized that I was never going to understand those who are watching this experiment from afar and those afar were never going to understand Atlanta. All I know is, this team is here, a lot of people are genuinely excited to watch them, and the people in charge are doing their best at being just as confounding as the city, in the best possible way.

My favorite thing about this city is Atlanta has the busiest airport in the United States. It means most likely, if you are coming from anywhere in the world, one of the best ways to come into the U.S. is through Atlanta. We welcome everyone. It feels special being a part of that, and the values of the city reflect that for the most part.

I’m not going to claim I know everything about this franchise. I don’t. I’ve seen its construction and am honored that I got the chance to speak to the team when they started building a foundation a while ago. But, if you want to learn about Georgia soccer history, talk to Jason Longshore. If you want to hear stories of how fan perception has changed over the last year and a half talk to Eric Quintana and Sam Franco. If you live in Charleston, please for he may be lonely, speak to Seamus Grady. If you want to talk about the Red Bulls, talk to me.

I’m rambling, mostly, here because for the first time I don’t really have much to say about Atlanta United. I’m excited to watch this team play on Sunday night, because of this website. There’s a real community there and I’m happy to have helped along the way. I also am writing this because I most likely won’t be contributing here anymore. I don’t have the time to report on this team, and I am excited to watch them in the only way I know how to in this city, as a transplant experiencing this with a slight detachment.

So I want to say thank you. I also want to say this team is here and tangible and a testament to everything. They start play on Sunday. Take notice, everyone.