The football played by Atlanta United on January 28th, 2023 against Chattanooga FC may not be worth writing home about, but the match itself marked a stellar moment in southern soccer that should overshadow a scoreline that’s admittedly a blip in the overall timeline of the Five Stripes.
Why? A history between the two clubs is forming that could be molded to benefit both, and the supporters from both clubs showed up and showed out on a cold day in Chattanooga, Tennessee (I had to).
Yes, the defense was admittedly atrocious, that’s a point that needs to be discussed (and will be). Chattanooga is a well-disciplined team, despite only having a handful of players who remain from last year’s NISA squad. 100% credit to head coach Rod Underwood. Atlanta has plenty of kinks to work out between now and February 25th, and it’s up to Gonzalo Pineda and co. to figure that out. Hot takes galore!
But an early preseason match in the United States between an MLS side and a NISA (3rd division) squad just drew over 7500 to the Scenic City in southern Tennessee. Not only did the supporter’s show out, the match showcased some of the young talent that the southeast is churning from places like Dalton, GA and, in Noah Cobb’s case, Chattanooga proper. Fans got a taste of Atlanta United and drew the largest crowd to Finley Stadium since 2017...when Chattanooga FC last played the Five Stripes in their home town. Hmm, sounds a bit like a relationship could be forming?
If you’re not aware, Chattanooga FC already has a partnership with VfL Wolfsburg, which is in place to accelerate their growing academies, women’s teams, and more. That’s already a huge leap for a team that most North American soccer fans wouldn’t necessarily know, much less rate. However, Wolfsburg is 4,580 miles by air (yes, I looked it up), while Atlanta is -checks notes- 103.8 miles. By comparison, Nashville SC (SC, ha) just formed an MLS Next Pro side in Huntsville, Alabama, which is almost exactly 100 miles as the crow flies AND THEY’RE PART OF THE SAME CLUB.
It’s already been proven the supporters will make the journey for the occasional match between the two clubs (let’s get the Scenic City guys to the Benz, though, huh?) and if we want to speak in biology terms, this relationship is already totally symbiotic. The distance between the two training grounds is nominal. North Georgia is pumping out an insane amount of talent that is, for MLS at least, an untapped resource. Just check out Scarves and Spikes’ interview with Chattanooga head coach Rod Underwood.
Guess where Chattanooga’s #7 Damian Rodriguez, the one who single-handedly set up the tying goal near the end of the first half (like, he really pulled some shenanigans on Atlanta’s first team left wing), came from? Chattanooga’s own academy, Dalton High School, and North Georgia Soccer Academy.
Noah Cobb is another Chattanooga success story. The Atlanta United homegrown looked stout in an otherwise defensively shaky match, and he’s already been described by Carlos Bocanegra as a future national team player. His time with the 2’s has paid dividends; what could it do for some other players coming through the Chattanooga academy? Think of the profits of having both club’s academies train together and partner up. How could that benefit Atlanta United and Chattanooga FC as a whole?
It’s clear both teams would have a multitude of benefits to joining forces - monetary, talent, growth - so could this be the right moment for the Five Stripes to find the Spock to their Captain Kirk? Something they could exploit more than the “partnership” with Aberdeen?
Atlanta’s new leadership may already be working towards that goal, if rumors of preliminary chats on the topic are to be believed. But for now, at minimum, let’s hope the supporters get the chance to experience this hallmark of growing soccer culture here in the southeast more often than once every few years. Hearing the Atlanta United supporters alongside the Chattahooligans despite what happens on the pitch? A thing of beauty.
Oh, and one final, faultless note, in case you needed another selling point?
There’s a Buc-ees right between the two cities. Let’s go.