ATLANTA – On Feb. 28, 2017, Atlanta didn’t know exactly what to expect out of its new MLS club on the eve of its first-ever season.
There was an agreed sense around the soccer community that this thing would not be an abject failure. Backed by an owner in Arthur Blank with a proven successful history on the city’s sports landscape, Atlanta United’s roster was built by a front office that oozed with experience and know-how in several different sectors.
President Darren Eales, technical director Carlos Bocanegra, VP of soccer operations Paul McDonough and head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino constituted an impressive think tank bringing a combination of expertise from Europe, South America and most importantly, the league the new club would be competing in.
Fast-forward a year, and the nervous anticipation of the unknown has been replaced by a sense of expectation, one built on the success of a team that captured the imagination of a city with its high-octane attack and attractive brand of soccer.
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank with fans | USA Today Sports Images
Just one season in, a fan culture already exists in the city and at glittering Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In recent days Atlanta season-ticket holders have captured their delight in opening their season-ticket boxes, sharing the videos on social media.
The city’s MARTA buses and trains are adorned in the club’s red, black and gold colors with rallying phrases like “Unite and Conquer” and “Atlanta, United.” Neighborhoods are sprinkled with fans wearing jerseys and flags flying proudly.
“Hopefully it’s a continuation from last year,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said this week. “There hasn’t been a single shift tactically that we’re going to try and do. Overall we want to be the same, attacking, exciting team, so the casual fan can sit down and enjoy the game.
“We were one kick of the ball away from second place in the East last year, and making the playoffs, that was all well and good, but last year we had even bigger objectives. This year is pretty similar. I think we’ll push as hard as we can.”
Their push to improve on last year's result begins on Saturday, when they visit the Houston Dynamo (3:30 pm ET; Univision in US).