It’s been clear in Atlanta for a while, but the rest of the league is catching on: The South got something to say.
Atlanta United’s unprecedented level of fan support has created one of the strongest home-field advantages in the league. But that hostile environment for visiting teams reached a new level this week in their permanent home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’ve been saying it for a while but the support today was even better than usual,” Coach Martino said through an interpreter after Saturday’s match against Orlando. “We’re happy to play in front of a fan base like that. It’s clear that the fans have a fervent passion for soccer here — the same passion that our players have on the field.”
Saturday’s match, with its record-setting attendance, took that now-famous stadium energy into the stratosphere. 70,425 fans bought tickets to the game, more than a thousand more than the previous MLS record for a regular-season match set back in 1996 by the L.A. Galaxy.
“It’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of,” said defender Chris McCann. “When the board lit up for the last couple of minutes, the roof nearly lifted off the place. It was incredible and a great atmosphere throughout the whole day. They nearly got us over the line in the end.”
For the second time this season, Atlanta United ranked in the top five in soccer attendances in the entire world, with only home games for European powerhouses Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and Bayern Munich drawing a bigger crowd over the weekend. In fact, Saturday’s crowd took Atlanta United’s total attendance to nearly 578,000 so far on the season. That’s already a record for any MLS expansion side’s inaugural season – and Atlanta still have five home games to go.
“We know what the fans bring for us, in terms of an atmosphere,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “It means the league is growing. It means soccer down here is definitely huge and popular which is good for us. Hopefully, this will catch on around to some other clubs in the league and this will start to be more of a consistent turnout.”
While the crowd is clearly making a mark on the long-term growth of soccer in the United States, even more importantly it’s making a tangible difference for the players out on the field right now.
“Words can’t describe it,” said captain Michael Parkhurst. “It was so loud out there at some points, and to just look around and feel the passion out there and the love and the support for us, it was just incredible. We really needed it tonight — the third game in six days — where the energy was not as high as maybe the other games — and needing to come back three different times. The crowd pushed us.”
Atlanta United marches on into its demanding September with another match this Wednesday against the L.A. Galaxy. Make sure you’re there to help lift them to victory as they try to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. You can buy your tickets here.