Atlanta United proved itself to be the best expansion team in MLS history in more ways than one.
Whether it’s the team it built on the field or in the passion the club’s inspired off of it, it has helped raise the bar for what the league can call a successful championship team.
On the field, the Five Stripes made the playoffs in their first season and followed that up with a magical playoff run that concluded in winning MLS Cup in only their second season in existence.
Team owner Arthur Blank was able to accomplish that by trusting technical director Carlos Bocanegra and the rest of the front office to build a very talented team.
Atlanta brought in outside talent like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez to supplement established MLS veterans like Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz and it led to a winning team. Gerardo “Tata” Martino was the coach that brought it all together.
“The most satisfying thing for me is to be able to fulfill all the plans the club presented to me at the beginning,” Martino said after the match on Saturday night. “I think we’ve got the best training facilities in the league, we’ve got the best team in the league. So as a club they give the coaching staff absolutely everything they need to be successful and that’s what makes it the most satisfying.”
The players were what made everything happen, of course. They are the ones out on the field playing the passes, scoring the goals, and making the saves. The squad recognizes the work the front office did to bring them all together from all corners of the world.
“To be a part of something like this is huge on so many different levels,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “It all started for me with a phone call while I was in England. To be able to assemble a team in a short amount of time and get it right from the start.”
The wonderful thing about the way this team is set up is how it is primed for long-term success.
Martino is departing the club and star forwards Almiron and Martinez are heavily linked with departures to Europe, but there are other excellent players waiting in the wings to come in.
Ezequiel Barco, the much-hyped forward from Uruguay, is primed to start up front next year and is one of several young players that will remain with the club.
The new coach still has a lot of talent available to him to continue Atlanta’s winning ways. Martino was aware of this and he knows the club is in great shape.
“This isn’t the ceiling for Atlanta,” Martino said. “In just its third year it’s going to be playing in international competition next year and that’s going to be a great learning experience for the club to be able to play against Mexican teams in the Concacaf Champions League. So that’s really important to get that international experience and you haven’t seen the best of Atlanta.”
The team did more than just win with excellent players on the pitch assembled by a top-notch front office, and led by a fantastic head coach.
Atlanta United was able to build up a culture and fan base that managed to draw an MLS Cup record crowd of 73,019 to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night.
It was an atmosphere that the league had never seen before, and that was not lost on the players. It was just another way this club has set a new standard for MLS success.
“We’ve hit that attendance numerous times throughout the regular season,” Guzan said. “It’s something we’ve become accustomed too. We never take it for granted, we appreciate all the support that we get on a weekly basis. But to see it here, the atmosphere, the noise level, the craziness. We knew it was going to be special.”
The atmosphere was there before the gates even opened. Fans were singing on the subway platform waiting for their train to the stadium. Fans were making noise in the cold rain outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium while they waited for the gates to open.
The place was buzzing shortly after when only a few thousand fans were in the building and Atlanta’s players walked across the pitch in their suits on their way to the locker room.
Everything about the day showed that Atlanta United is something MLS hasn’t seen before. It shows other clubs and other fan bases what can be built with hard work on the field and an excellent community off of it.
“We’re lucky,” Guzan continued. “We’re lucky, man, to be a part of this. To be a part of this city, to be a part of this city, this organization. The bar’s been lifted in so many ways for Major League Soccer because of Atlanta United and so to be a part of it is pretty special.