ATLANTA – Somewhere between the laser show on the side of the billion-dollar stadium, appearances by multi-platinum recording artist Jeezy and the first public appearance of manager Gabriel Heinze, star striker Josef Martinez showed up.
Atlanta United could have come out wearing an all-purple kit with a double bull logo on the front, and nobody would have cared as long as Josef Martinez showed up. They were great, but the biggest cheers (honks?) of Friday night were never going to come for the flashing lights, the Atlanta hip-hop legend, the new kit or the new manager.
On the same day that Atlanta revealed their new “The BLVCK" primary kit with a drive-in event, they divulged that Martinez had begun training in full and should be good to in April after recovering from a torn ACL. With cars gathered at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to celebrate the occasion, it didn’t feel normal, but it did feel hopeful.
It fit the theme of Atlanta’s offseason so far. A hopeful return to a version of the Five Stripes that captures your attention, which, from most perspectives, seems like it’s coming. The incoming players appear to have a level of potential beyond what’s come to Atlanta since Tata Martino departed after 2018. Heinze’s unrelenting style should mesh perfectly with fans spoiled by the team’s first two years of existence, and Josef Martinez is coming back. It might take a second for the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP to reach full fitness, though.
“I look fat, I think,” Martinez jokingly said last night.
For all the talk of Atlanta United seeking a return to old form, fashion-wise they won’t look like years past. Their new “The BLVCK" kit is a deep-black departure from the red primaries they’ve become identified for. But maybe there’s some deeper meaning there, too. At least Jeezy thinks so, and Jeezy’s allowed to see deeper meanings in things.
“It represents coming out of the dark,” Jeezy said. “It’s been a minute since everybody has seen the team playing with everybody there celebrating this great team. But now we’re coming back. It’s a minor setback for a major comeback. That’s why we’re here tonight. We emerge in this new kit and we emerge in this new energy. So we’re coming out of the darkness baby.”
Incredible Jeezy hype speech aside, it’s fair to say the new look has received a mixed reaction. New things being new and different things being different are both going to be difficult barriers to clear no matter what. However, club president Darren Eales made a good point about that.
“Ultimately, the reality is that if this kit is a kit that wins two consecutive MLS Cups, it’s going to be everyone’s favorite kit,” Eales said. “That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. A shirt that the players can wear with pride and get out there on the pitch and put in a performance that the supporters can be proud of.”
Ever since a disappointing 2020 that will probably leave the “Stars & Stripes” kit forever associated with a team that failed to make a 10-team Eastern Conference playoff field, Atlanta United have spent the offseason changing course. Heinze is here after leading Velez Sarsfield, the new signings seem right for his system and there’s a club-wide understanding that the failures of 2020 shouldn’t be dismissed but rectified.
Oh, and Josef Martinez is coming back to the 2018 MLS Cup champions. Like a massive laser show on the side of a grounded space station of a stadium, it’s all enough to capture your attention. And it’s all enough to make you feel like you can step into the light and be a little optimistic.