Monday, March 19, 2018 might be exactly when the Atlanta United hype train went off the rails.
On that day, the Georgia State Senate honored the club with Resolution 667, citing their playoff appearance as an expansion team, the attendance records they keep setting, and the strong leadership of president Darren Eales.
In hilariously over-the-top fashion, the resolution called Atlanta United the “Kings of the South,” adding that after only one season in MLS, it is “abundantly proper to call them champions.”
Here’s the thing though…it’s not proper. It’s actually kind of ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong - the team is doing things beyond even what Don Garber could have imagined in his wildest fever dream. Atlanta plays in a $1.6 billion state-of-the-art spaceship of a stadium. They train in a $60 million facility--modeled after those at top European clubs--where a robust academy system and new USL team will thrive. Their first manager is Tata Martino, who had previously spent time with Lionel “The GOAT” Messi, and now coaches top-class talent like MLS Newcomer of the Year Miguel Almiron and the 2018 MLS Golden Boot and Worst Smile award winner Josef Martinez.
For all these reasons, the Sports Business Journal nominated Atlanta United as a “Sports Team of the Year” candidate, along with Arthur Blank for “Sports Executive of the Year.”
These would be great honors to have, but they’re not the ones Atlanta fans need.
In more than 170 total seasons of Big 4 professional sports in our city, we’ve won just one title: the 1995 World Series. We also won one in soccer a half century ago when the Atlanta Chiefs defeated the San Diego Toros in the NASL Final. The only other title we’ve won recently is the #1 spot on Forbes Magazine’s “Most Miserable Sports Cities” countdown.
Atlanta United has made a lot of us sports misanthropes happier lately, but if the team doesn’t start winning silverware in short order, this temporary bliss is in danger of fading as fast as your average UGA frat rat after a 4am visit to Waffle House. I should know--I was around the last time Atlanta experienced this kind of exhilarating but ultimately empty pro sports success.
I was just a kid when the Atlanta Braves went from worst to first to begin a record-breaking streak of 14 straight Division Titles. During that run, the city went gaga for the team, with Braves Fatigue Syndrome setting in because so many of us were staying up to all hours of the night watching the extra inning playoff games.
Those were some of the best years I’ve ever had as an Atlanta sports fan. Yet when I look back at that time, I feel a deep sense of disappointment because we only got one parade to show for it. In the years since, the crowds dwindled, and eventually the team stopped winning. I don’t want that to happen to the Five Stripes. I want to see the investments they’re making today, in players, in facilities, and in their brand, pay off for the long term.
I want to see them truly become Kings of the South. But to do that they’ll have to take at least a few MLS crowns in the years to come.