For Atlanta United, it's all happening:
The club is rolling through the most successful Major League Soccer expansion campaign since the Seattle Sounders reached the playoffs to cap their 2009 debut. Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra nailed their Designated Player signings, along with many other roster moves, from the Expansion Draft on through the collective Targeted Allocation Money spend. The supporters – oh, those supporters – have been coming out in droves behind the Five Stripes at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
And it's about to hit overdrive.
This week marks the MLS debut of Mercedes Benz Stadium, a 42,500-capacity soccer venue (expandable all the way up to 83,000) touted as "The finest sports and entertainment facility in the world."
With world-class amenities, stunning views and a wildly innovative "Fan First Pricing" initiative on concessions, MB Stadium is going to provide an experience literally unlike any other in MLS – if not professional sports.
Arthur Blank and Co. are going all in on the opening, with a week's worth of events to culminate in Sunday's matchup against FC Dallas (3:30pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes; MLS LIVE in Canada). And it's the soccer runway that's clear for a playoff flight path.
Atlanta pushed for a home-heavy homestretch, and are about to play eight games in 23 days; seven of those matches come at their new home. Some of my colleagues – we see you, Rosy – think this stretch is set to send the ATL on a downward spiral that ends below the playoff line.
And it's a fair possibility. Columbus Crew SC have been surprisingly resurgent (5-2-2 in their last nine), the New York Red Bulls found their mojo, and the Montreal Impact were a Week 26 win away from upending the playoff picture. Heck, even the New England Revolution seem to have (finally) discovered a groove.
Only four squads will be joining Toronto FC and New York City FC in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, and you've got to figure even if the Chicago Fire stagger to the finish, they keep their claws on at least the sixth seed.
It says here that Atlanta joins them (along with RBNY and Crew SC), on the basis of a new-stadium bounce –
look at what that did
for a decidedly … less-good
Orlando City SC
earlier this year – along with the fresh legs of their young
team, the veteran savvy sprinkled in, and Tata Martino's squad-rotation smarts/
I'll tell you this: Once the playoff bracket is set, if I'm lined up against this squad, expansion outfit or no, I'm bringing the A game. Otherwise, it's risking a spot as the backdrop to the ascending star of some Atlanta legacy-maker TBD. The history of this first season has yet to be firmly inked, but they've got the talent, they've got the fans and now – finally – their new home.