ATLANTA – As sports-crazed as the cultural and economic capital of the American South is, it’s been nearly a quarter-century since this entire city has had a championship to celebrate together.
That could change very soon.
Atlanta United executives and staff welcomed members of the media to the mansion that houses Arthur Blank’s family of businesses on Wednesday afternoon to crown MLS goal king Josef Martinez as the Landon Donovan 2018 MLS MVP, an emotional moment for the Venezuelan striker and his club.
An even bigger trophy will come into view on Saturday, as the Five Stripes host the Portland Timbers in 2018 MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS) – and while Blank and ATLUTD aren’t looking past that occasion, their friends at City Hall are making arrangements.
“I was texting the mayor [Keisha Lance Bottoms] the other evening, Thursday night, and she already planned on a parade,” revealed Blank when asked about what an MLS Cup title would mean to the city he’s called home for four decades. “So she’s ahead of me. We haven’t had a parade in Atlanta since 1995 – a sports-related parade – since 1995. So God willing, and play willing, we’ll be in a position to be able to do that again next week.”
That last trophy was earned by baseball’s Atlanta Braves, who beat the Cleveland Indians in six games to win the ‘95 World Series, their only triumph in five trips to the big show that decade. The NFL’s Falcons, ATLUTD’s co-inhabitants at MBS, memorably suffered heartbreak via a blown lead in Super Bowl LI, and also lost their other trip to that stage back in 1999. The NBA’s Hawks haven’t won a title since 1958 (when they were based in St. Louis), and two NHL teams have come and gone with nary a championship between them.
But Blank believes this time will be different.
“I’m as excited about this as I was the Super Bowl,” said the Home Depot co-founder, who owns both the Falcons and Atlanta United. “I don’t want to end up with the same feeling that we had [with the Falcons] in ‘16. But we’re excited to be here in every way we can be. The city’s excited – you just have to come to the stadium to see and feel that. What I say is not unimportant, but what the fans say is most important, and the fans could not be more excited … We have an opportunity to show the very best of soccer in North America.”
It’s been a dizzying climb for the Five Stripes from expansion newcomers to MLS Cup finalists, hosts and favorites in under two years. As a famously successful businessman and underwriter of the team’s ambitious approach, Blank provides a slightly different perspective on that unique ride.
“We envisioned success – you are what you dream about – and then you have to be able to visualize it and be able to execute it, and we’ve done that to the highest possible level,” he said. "It’s a great tribute to everybody connected to the franchise."
While there is no denying the club's success in their first two years — as evidenced by their point total and appearance in MLS Cup — the true measure of success will come this weekend when the Five Stripes aim to capture their first trophy.
"We have an important match, the next, final step is Saturday,” Blank concluded.