This past weekend before Atlanta United’s home match against FC Cincinnati, the club unveiled the Founding Member Wall, a commemorative piece that lists all the club’s Founding Members. The wall is located at the Soccer Ball Plaza next to Gate 1 on the north side of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
We spoke with five of those Founding Members who were part of the group honored on Saturday. All five members have attended every Atlanta United home match. They reflected on the meaning of the club, the most memorable moments of these last six years and what they want to see next.
Ricardo Montecino: We turn our world around Atlanta United. My wife and I, we haven’t missed a game. Hopefully, we can continue that.
James Hale: There’s nothing else to compare to that moment when the team takes the field and all of our hearts are in tow. For 90 minutes, everybody in the stands will stop breathing for that split second we have that shot on goal. And there’s nothing like it anywhere. Every Atlanta United supporter knows this is about us vs. them, this is about our heroes and our tribe, it’s a battle cry of pure devotion and loyalty to our club and our community. And for me, it’s a creed. There are a lot of cities that have a soccer club, but United feels like home.
Carter Robb: It’s just a way to watch exciting soccer and a way to feel really connected to my city, the city of Atlanta.
Gonzalo Ruiz: Atlanta United to me represents progress. Both of the quality of players on the field and of course the way it has brought the city together. There’s such a diverse crowd every game.
Michael Latta: As for me and my friend, it literally means everything. It’s brought he and I closer together throughout the years. It’s brought us just closer to the city in general. It’s a sport we haven’t always had in Atlanta. I’ve lived most of my life in the north – Indiana, Michigan – it’s a big change down here, so it literally means a lot for us.
Atlanta United was announced as an MLS expansion team in 2014 as the league’s 22nd franchise. The club prepared to play its first MLS season in 2017. Those members of the Atlanta community who purchased season tickets to the team’s inaugural season were dubbed Founding Members of the club.
Hale: I wanted to be part of the beginning of a tradition that’s going to last 50 to 100 years. And one day, somebody’s going to write a history of Atlanta United, and I want my name listed with all the others who had that same dream that there could be a world-class city that needed a world-class team. And Atlanta United is that team.
Montecino: We wanted to be part of the team. We wanted to be part of history.
Ruiz: Initially, becoming a founding member for me was more about the opportunity to spend time with my wife, Joanna, my family and friends who all love soccer. But that quickly changed after the first game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. I remember walking up to the stadium for the first time. The feel of the excitement of everyone around us was absolutely amazing. I knew right then we had made the right decision to become Founding Members.
Latta: We wanted to get in on the ground up. It was really exciting hearing all the rumors leading up to the city getting a team – and Taylor Twellmen dogging on us saying Atlanta’s not a soccer city, all that kind of nonsense he was spurting out. So we wanted to get in and get involved as quick as we could. That was the best way for us to do that.
The club quickly created a standard of winning. Just one year after its inaugural season in MLS, Atlanta United won the MLS Cup, beating the Portland Timbers 2-0 on December 8, 2018 in front of a home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The championship is a memory many Founding Members call their favorite.
Montecino: I never thought I was going to be so happy that we, my wife and I, especially my wife, we cried. When I looked at her, she had tears in her eyes. Happy tears.
Ruiz: I have to say that winning the MLS Cup in 2018 on my birthday weekend really stands out for sure.
Latta: Winning the Cup in 2018. You can’t beat that.
There were even more memories to come. The team went on to win the U.S. Open Cup and the Campeones Cup in 2019, all with memorable performances along the way.
Robb: For some reason the Campeones Cup always sticks with me. I just loved the atmosphere of that game. There were so many [Club] América fans, it just seemed like it was so joyfully tense throughout the whole thing, and every time I think about that match, I think about how great Darlington Nagbe was in that match. That was just my favorite memory of 100 memories.
Hale: September 13, 2017 – United scored seven on the Revolution and Josef got his first hat trick. It was glorious.
Latta: The Campeones Cup against Club América. Those are the two most electric times we’ve ever heard the stadium. And both those games were just tremendous and those are both huge memories for us. Definitely core memories now for the rest of our lives.
Montecino: Every time we see the team, it brings smiles and we just enjoy what we’re seeing.
From the beginning, even down to its name, the club has formed its identity around uniting the city, welcoming a diverse set of people, whether it’s people who live inside the perimeter or outside the perimeter, people who are lifelong soccer fans or those who are new to the sport.
Montecino: The amazing thing about Atlanta United, I’ve been an Atlanta fan for a long time. Braves, Falcons, Georgia, Georgia Tech… but the way Atlanta United unites us is when you see people wearing the jersey in the stores, at the mall, outside the stadium, when there is no game, you can just say ‘hi.’ Or we used to say ‘Atlanta’ and then the other person would answer ‘United.’ So we make more friends, or at least we know more people.
Hale: The club makes Atlanta more vibrant. It connects a diverse group of people who are proud – and I mean proud of the club and proud of the city that we all call home.
Latta: We’re up in Cumming, so we’re outside the perimeter. So when we go to Atlanta, we’re literally going for the Atlanta United games. We never really had a reason to go to the city before, but it literally, physically brought us closer to the city. It let us learn more about what this city has to offer. We’ve also watched a lot of diverse crowds, so that was really cool to see.
Robb: It’s really connected me by reminding me what an energetic and diverse and vibrant and dynamic city I live in. It just reminds me every time I go to see so many different kinds of people, different ages, different ethnicities – it’s just all these people, all united together.
The club started off playing games at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech. During the 2017 season, the club moved into its home Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is where the Founding Member Wall was built that displays the names of the Founding Members. And the atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium creates such a meaningful experience for Atlanta United supporters.
Montecino: Unmatched. I’ve been to many different games, many different venues, but the atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is just unmatched. Nothing compares to it.
Latta: Passion. Everyone around is passionate. You’ve got the youngsters growing up with the sport now in Atlanta and they’re able to go to games too. It’s a very family-oriented kind of game, so you’re giving them exposure at a younger age – something I didn’t have access to 25 years ago growing up – so it’s really cool seeing that.
Ruiz: Buzzing. We sit in section 132, not far from the supporters’ section. We get to experience all of the chants and the singing and everything that originates there.
As Founding Members, all five were part of Atlanta United from the beginning. They were part of the record-setting attendance records and an enviable stadium experience other MLS players acknowledge is one of the league’s best. As the club honors its foundation with the Founding Member wall, it also looks forward. The supporters hope that the club will continue to dream big, win titles and bring joy to its supporters.
Montecino: Our hope, my wife and I, is always hopefully the team will stay on top. We want to win the World Cup for clubs. We want to be always on top, always.
Ruiz: We’ve already won a few major trophies, that has set very high expectations for the club and for fans like myself. I just hope that we can continue to be competitive and challenge on a regular basis for major honors including the Supporters Shield, another MLS Cup and who knows, maybe even the Concacaf Champions League.
Latta: When you think of clubs, for example ones in Europe, you think of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City. You think of clubs in Spain like Madrid, Barcelona. Inter Milan in Italy and A.C. Milan in Italy. We want to be that for the United States. When you think of soccer in the United States, you want to think of Atlanta. Right now, we’re definitely in the conversation, but you have clubs like LAFC, the L.A. Galaxy, New York, Seattle – we want to be that club that’s talked about, that people globally recognize. They see our Five Stripes and they say ‘Ok, that’s Atlanta United. That’s who we want to be.’
Robb: Other than winning MLS Cups, I just hope it just continues the excitement that has been building. I have a 12-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, and I just want them to be connected to that team for as long as they live in Atlanta too. I just want it to continue.
Hale: My dream is for Atlanta United to continue its success both on and off the pitch. I want to see goals, and I want to gather hardware. But I also want a club that’s connected to this city and can show the world what Atlanta has to offer.
Montecino: My wife and I, we haven’t missed a game yet – and we’re not going to.