ATLANTA — Atlanta United is accustomed to record-setting crowds at Mercedes-Benz Stadium clad in red and black, but playing against one of the continent’s most popular teams in the Campeones Cup is sure to supply another dynamic.
Match organizers for Wednesday’s final anticipate even more Club America fans than when the Five Stripes hosted Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions League this past March. They’ve reserved an entire lower-bowl section for the away supporters, with thousands more expected in the general seating.
“We're not naive. We know that Club America has got fans everywhere. We can appreciate that because our fans travel well, too,” said Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst. “There are definitely going to be some America fans in there, but I don't know what the split will look like. But it doesn't matter. We're excited for the game and it's going to be a good atmosphere regardless of … what fans are out there yelling louder. It's going to be exciting.”
Anticipation for the match has built throughout the week. Monday afternoon, players from both Atlanta United and Club America participated in a community event at a local middle school in close proximity to one of Atlanta’s most vibrant Hispanic districts. A teacher offered an opportunity for the young students to cheer for the team they hoped would win, and the Club America one was noticeably more vociferous.
“We're playing at home, so hopefully we get the home support,” said Tito Villalba, one of Atlanta’s players at the event. “But I'm also aware that we have a lot of Mexican fans in the community. Hopefully we can get some good support, but the crowd will likely be mixed.”
Atlanta fans have set multiple MLS attendance records since joining the league in 2017, but match organizers have yet to open the whole stadium. Still, Club America manager Miguel Herrera isn’t taking the contest lightly.
“Obviously the tournament is just starting, it's a new event in it's second edition,” Herrera said through a translator. “But we're bringing our best players and we're taking it with all the seriousness possible, because it's important for us to win every trophy and every tournament possible.”
Whichever fanbase turns out in greater numbers, Herrera praised Atlanta’s rise in the North American soccer landscape. The club, after all, entered MLS in just 2017.
“Atlanta is a great city. This is without a doubt the best stadium in the world,” Herrera said. “It's a beautiful stadium. We hope to get off on the right foot and get this year started in the best way possible."