In the late 1970s, soccer in the United States was still considered in its nascent stages of development. The proximate decade-long odyssey of the original, fledgling North American Soccer League was beginning to assert itself with the arrival of a force majeure known as Pelé.
When Pelé commenced play with the NASL’s New York Cosmos by 1975, he was almost 35 years-old and played 18 seasons professionally in Brazil, but he may have provided the NASL a stay of execution with his mere presence. My father and I were enamored with the aspect of watching capacity crowds at Giants Stadium go into a frenzy over soccer on American network television.
Nevertheless, the demise of the NASL was a fait accompli following Pelé’s retirement and those images of fans’ vociferous support for teams like the Cosmos and Rowdies began to fade until its fatal collapse in 1985. Atlanta’s franchise, known as the Atlanta Chiefs, could only last five seasons before devolving into a footnote in sports history.
Few would have augured that 44 years later that the formation of the Atlanta United FC would become a sensation in the metropolitan area. During that span, Major League Soccer formed (almost folding itself by 2002) as a replacement for the North American Soccer League and Atlanta lost two National Hockey League franchises relocating to Canada. Although the Five Stripes waited a number of months before the newly constructed palatial Mercedes-Benz Stadium was completed, committed fans turned out in droves at home games held at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.
As Atlanta United FC transitioned to MBS, the club managed to compete in front of over 70,000 fans during their inaugural season and playoff run. This was an impressive accomplishment for city that is often maligned for being apathetic and disloyal. Some observers felt that this verve enjoyed by the Five Stripes was akin to a one-hit wonder.
Last Sunday’s first home game of the new season for Atlanta United FC broke another attendance record with over 72,000 against D.C. United. A steady stream of ravenous fanatics traversed corridors of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium frequenting team stores at a steady pace purchasing merchandise to the point of repletion. The Five Stripes did not disappoint as they would take a 3-1 victory.
Many are anticipating another attendance record as Atlanta United FC prepare to face the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on St. Patrick’s Day. Pregame festivities will undoubtedly eclipse the festivities of last weekend twofold. Atlanta has certainly embraced the Five Stripes its very own and the demographics prove that the team has been effective in reaching the community. Consequently, the fans have bought into this franchise big time!