Frank Miller's classic novel Batman: Year One chronicles Bruce Wayne's journey from orphaned billionaire to complete badass. It's an epic story of trial and error, discovery and determination. Similar to Atlanta United in 2017. Well at least that’s what I want to believe. To be honest, Adam West's death triggered my childhood Batman memories, but it was a text I received after the loss to Chicago on June 10th that inspired this metaphor.
After the final whistle at Toyota Park my buddy texted me, "Dude, WTF?" It was Atlanta United's second consecutive loss, but still my reply was a very rational, "Year One." I admit that after last night’s loss to DC United I was less than forgiving, but before you can dominate a complex and unpredictable league like MLS, you have to stub your toe a few times. Inconsistent performances are part of the process. Unexpected losses are normal. Injuries to key players are a reality. What’s frustrating to us is that we know how good this team can be in MLS. The #ExpansionTeam hashtag is taboo for some because sellouts at Bobby Dodd have become the norm. "We're not a typical expansion team." No, we're not. But ultimately history will be the judge of that. After the win over Columbus we were back on a high, but we quickly fell flat on our faces in the Nation’s capital. It’s time we ask ourselves: what happens if this team misses the playoffs? Would it be a total buzz-killing failure or an ambitious year-one objective the team couldn’t complete?
"I have the means. The skill but not the method. That's not true. I have hundreds of methods. But something's missing." - Bruce Wayne
Billionaire owner. World-class manager. Glitzy, state-of-the art facilities. Add some very good players in year one and it's clear that Atlanta United have the means, the methods and the skill, so what's missing? Better defending? Definitely, but that won’t happen overnight. The one thing a professional soccer club can't buy is time. This team wasn't together for very long before their first match against the New York Red Bulls. The players were still adjusting to culture shock, traffic on 285, and a very specific style of play. Fast-forward to present day and those initial challenges are still lingering. Early success and all those "did you see that!" moments (like Josef’s near-post cracker against Columbus) have created a standard that's difficult to maintain in an inaugural year. Atlanta United are victims of their own zeal and their very direct approach to eventual MLS superiority. But I'm down with that MO.
Is Atlanta United the new vigilante of Major League Soccer? Probably not, but intentionally bucking the status quo and becoming a change agent is risky business in any industry. Nevertheless, this team has to make the playoffs in 2017 to truly make a mark on MLS. In the second half of the season their margin for error will be slim to none. We might take another punch in the face from an established MLS brand, but I think we’ll deliver a few, too.
Felipe Cardenas writes for The Near Post Run - A Global Soccer Blog. Follow him on Twitter @FelipeCar.