ATLANTA – Matt Stigall heard all the rhetoric back in March 2011 when a handful of MLS clubs traveled to Atlanta for preseason exhibition matches: If Atlanta wants an MLS team, they have to show they can support soccer.
"And I'm like, 'Alright, how and where do I do that?'" Stigall told MLSsoccer.com. "Turns out none of that existed yet. So I just said I'll start it now."
So Stigall (right, adjacent photo), who is a marketing analyst for a local dental firm, started the @ATLWantsMLS twitter handle where he got to know the most passionate Atlanta fans. A little more than three years later, he was in downtown celebrating the launch of a new MLS expansion team on Wednesday as president of the Terminus Legion, the largest supporters group in Atlanta.
The Terminus Legion booth outside the announcement location featured a steady stream of supporters signing up that was always at least 30 people deep. Since Wednesday's announcement they have practically doubled their membership to well more than 500 supporters. But they don't plan on stopping there.
"We're going to set unrealistic goals for ourselves and shoot for the moon," said J.R. Francis, the Terminus Legion's chief marketing officer (left, photo above). "Our goal is to be the largest supporters group in America. Will we get there? Maybe. Maybe not. But if we set the goal there everything we do will strive to be there."
Francis is a UX graphic designer for a local digital marketing agency and he designed the Terminus Legion brand and logo. It consists of a locomotive's cowcatcher (the front of a locomotive since Atlanta was built as a locomotive hub) and the top roof of a house – "because we're all like a family," Francis says. The crossties – another railroad symbol – is meant to indicate the cross between the players and fans.
Why Terminus Legion? "Terminus" was the first name for the city of Atlanta. And there was also no other supporters group called "Legion," although Miami's Southern Legion launched around the same time.
With the unique name comes a unique identity: Terminus Legion is bringing some old-fashioned southern hospitality to US supporters' culture. "One hundred percent positivity," says Stigall.
"We're not going to do YSA chants. We're not going to kick people out because they didn't show up to one game," Francis said. "We're going to be inclusive and welcoming and we're going to have a great time. All of us need to go to work on Monday morning."
But they have nearly a three-year wait until their first MLS game. So in the meantime they'll be getting plenty of practice at local NASL Atlanta Silverbacks matches – "We support all Atlanta soccer from grassroots to professionals," noted Stigall – and they plan on making road trips to D.C. as well as Orlando City's first MLS match in 2015. They might even crash an Atlanta Braves baseball game or two.
"We look forward to educating people who don't live here that Atlanta has passionate fans," Francis said. "We're not a lazy sports town like some people want to say. We want to show people that Atlanta loves their teams, especially soccer."
"I think that everyone who doubts us is going to be shocked come 2017," says recent Savannah, Ga., transplant James Bradley (photo right), who is a co-president of the American Outlaws US national team chapter in Atlanta. "It's here. There just hasn't been an outlet for it yet."