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Bobby Dodd has been more than a temporary home for Atlanta United

Saying goodbye to Bobby Dodd and, for me, saying goodbye to Atlanta

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Atlanta United FC Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer is getting ready to say goodbye to one of the best places to watch a game in the league: Bobby Dodd Stadium. Atlanta United has sold out every game there and the stadium itself has helped foster a home atmosphere that is not only one of the top in the league, but indeed the world. Atlanta United will take on Orlando City on Saturday in what will be the last of nine home matches at the venue, and what matches they were.

Given that Bobby Dodd is not exactly an ideal soccer venue, it may seem strange that it has helped create this amazing environment. In an age of new soccer specific stadiums, it is a 104 year-old football stadium with uncomfortable bleachers, a narrow pitch, and is festooned with the white and gold of Georgia Tech. In spite of that, every one of those drawbacks has been turned into a part of creating an unbelievable game day atmosphere.

The incommodious bleachers meant that rather than sitting, every fan in the stadium stands for the full 90 minutes with rapt attention given to the play on the field. The narrow pitch means that the grass literally ends where the stands begin, bringing the supporters right on top of the action. Finally, Bobby Dodd is covered with the red and black of Atlanta United giving it the feel of a true home for the team rather than a temporary one. The end zones and center circle don’t even have Georgia Tech’s logo painted anywhere near them.

The results have been spectacular:

I am not kidding when I say that standing in the supporters’ section, hearing the roar of the crowd from the first goal in team history is one of the loudest sounds I’ve heard human beings make.

It also didn’t take long for Atlanta to master the stadium wide slow build Viking clap:

#ATLUTD A-T-L Viking Chant. Incredible.

A post shared by Kyle Tait (@hearkyletait) on

That gives me chills every time it’s done.

The Hype Depot has also brought the cross stadium chant to the city:

The atmosphere in the stadium and team’s play on the field has been the ultimate rebuttal to consternation that was raised about the team since Arthur Blank was awarded an MLS expansion club in 2014. In the lead up to the first Atlanta United match, the team made some decisions that were subject to ridicule from media commentators and potential supporters. For example, the name itself received criticism, the news that the team would not begin its season at Mercedes Benz Stadium was met with a collective groan, and just putting a franchise in Atlanta in the first place engendered a take that the city cared so much about football that it would ignore its soccer team.

All of that seems completely ridiculous now. Fans have embraced the team name and every game is a sellout with nobody complaining that they would rather be in a different stadium. In addition, the way that the Atlanta United front office transformed Bobby Dodd from a college football field to a professional soccer home put to rest any criticism that Arthur Blank was somehow treating his MLS team secondary to his NFL franchise after the delays to the construction of MBS were announced.

The atmosphere and nine straight sell outs also should put to bed the notion that Atlanta is a bad sports town. Any city with a team that sells out every game they have, played during an expansion year nonetheless, in a backup stadium, all while playing a sport that has historically had difficulty gaining popularity in this country, and instantly has a world class stadium ambiance is not a bad sports town.

Nearly every move that the team made was debated and analyzed until play began and when it did, the fans and players showed that Atlanta United would be something special. While the team has achieved much in the first half of its home schedule there is a lot of history to be written. If the main chapters of that history will be told at Mercedes Benz Stadium, the prologue could not have been more ideal as it was written at Bobby Dodd.

A different kind of goodbye

Saturday will also be the last home game that I attend as an Atlanta resident. Next week I’m moving to Pennsylvania and will say goodbye to the city I’ve called home for the last 20 years (I’ll still be filling this site with Rekrap and match previews, don’t worry). Not to give undue importance in my life to a soccer team, but Atlanta United has filled a need as a sports fan that perhaps I didn’t know existed: a real home team and a real connection to the city through sports.

Atlanta United Football Club is the first Atlanta team that I have fully supported. Despite calling the city, yeah, and the suburbs, home for two decades, I stubbornly clung to the same sports allegiances I had when I moved from Chicago at age 12. Admittedly when I was younger my new home was not my favorite. Though I had been coming south to visit family and spend my summers here before moving permanently, I didn’t want to accept my new home and probably most outwardly resisted by going to Braves games decked out in Cubs gear or rooting on the Bears when they played the Falcons.

Gradually, things began to change. I never gave up on the Cubs but I began embracing the Falcons, and around the same time Atlanta itself, when they beat the Bears on a last second field goal in 2008. Judging by the number of hats from away teams I see at Braves games or the number of fans wearing the jerseys of the visitors at Falcons and Hawks games, I am probably not the only ATL-transplant who has a story like this. But, as time passed, I learned to really enjoy the city and am proud to call myself an Atlantan.

Atlanta United offered fans like me a blank slate and perhaps that is part of why the team enjoys the support and popularity that it does. I love soccer and am something of an MLS snob. However, I hadn’t ever supported a team because I didn’t follow the sport until I saw a game live as a study abroad student in 2006, right in time for the World Cup and team USA’s untimely exit.

After that, I casually followed soccer but didn’t follow MLS closely until the league announced that Atlanta would get a franchise in 2014. Waiting for the day the team would take the field I really didn’t know what to expect. In addition to excitement and anticipation, part of me was admittedly worried that the team wouldn’t live up to the hype. Instead, United met and has exceeded expectations. On top of that, the Five Stripes make me proud to be an Atlantan and a sports fan. The experiences I’ve had with friends and family at Bobby Dodd are truly unmatched in terms of sporting events that I’ve attended.

So for me, forging memories in Bobby Dodd Stadium has been truly special. As I set off to move to Pennsylvania next week I am sad to be leaving the city that I have grown to love and and am melancholy that I won’t be making new memories at United’s new home next month. Despite that, no matter where I am, Atlanta will always be home for me and Atlanta United will always be the soccer team that I support.