Atlanta United's inaugural MLS game - 3/5/17
USA Today Sports

Atlanta United blown away by "unbelievable" atmosphere at inaugural game

ATLANTA — Atlanta United FC may have come away disappointed in the result of their inaugural match — a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls — but they were absolutely thrilled with the jubilant atmosphere that greeted them on the field.

“It was louder and crazier than we thought it would be,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It’s the type of fans you want to play in front of, week in, week out. But the performance on the field needs to match their intensity.”

It was a night of firsts for Atlanta United. They had their first sellout, with a capacity crowd of 55,297 packing Georgia Tech’s 104-year-old Bobby Dodd Stadium. The first tifo was unfurled (a giant Phoenix), the first national anthem was sung (by Grammy winner and College Park native Monica), and hip hop star Yung Joc took part in the team’s first matchday tradition, the ceremonial hammering of the Golden Spike.

And the crowd erupted as Yamil Asad put away the first goal in franchise history — a moment Asad will never forget.

“It was a joy to score, I was very excited to be part of the history of the club,” Asad said. “The support was fantastic. I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win for the crowd.”

Although the Red Bulls rallied to score the game's final two goals after Asad opened the scoring, it was still a special night for the Atlanta United FC franchise, their players, and their fans.

“The statement from the crowd was unbelievable,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “They’re going to be behind us no matter happens, and that’s what you want as a player, a crowd like that. It’s going to be hard for other teams to come to our place and get a win here.”

The night was particularly special for owner Arthur Blank. He was all smiles before the match as he talked about what the moment meant to him.  

“I’m incredibly excited after a number of years of chasing this dream,” he said. “To see the enthusiasm of our fans and their commitment, their passion, for our team, Atlanta United, it just makes my heart really feel good. I know that sounds hokey but that’s how I feel.”

“Frankly, I’m not speechless very often, but I’m speechless now,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at halftime. “This is an absolutely incredible statement of the vision and commitment that Arthur [Blank] and his family have to this city to the sport of soccer and to Major League Soccer.”

Atlanta United fans had similar emotions about the historic match.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night that’s how excited I am,” said John Siller, 26. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for over two years. There’s something about getting in on the ground floor, getting the first game, making history. It’s very emotional for me today.”

The Atlanta fans’ passion was certainly on full display, inside and outside the stadium.

The club’s four main supporter groups—Terminus Legion, Footie Mob, Resurgence, and The Faction—gathered before the inaugural match game in a parking lot just north of The Varsity, the iconic drive-thru visited by Georgia Tech fans for decades. Atlanta United has sold over 4,000 seats in its supporter section, making it one of the largest in the league.

“Every step along the way has been this fun, weird rollercoaster ride,” said Curtis Jenkins, 37, the founder of Footie Mob. “Once I get inside, it’s going to finally hit me. I’m probably going to fall to pieces and have to put myself together after the game.”

“To finally have a hometown team, that’s the best,” said Johanna Smith, 30. “I’m just happy to see them play, be at home, cheering for my own team. And I would like to win of course, but I’m just happy to have a team.”

Other fans gathered in the hours before kickoff in the American Family Insurance Fan Village, where they were treated to cuisine from local restaurants and music from local artists, including Outkast, T.I., Ludacris, and Migos.

Steve Deek, 56, drove up from Greenville, South Carolina to watch the match with his son, Jared.

“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” said the elder Deek, noting that his son had gotten up early to watch the Spurs-Everton match, then listened to a second match on Sirius XM as they made their way to Atlanta for their “third soccer game of the day.”  

“We’re all excited it’s finally happening,” added Sebastian Saavedra, 25. “We’re finally on the map in MLS."