Atlanta United FC prove they belong in city's sports culture after raucous debut

Atlanta United debuts

There was still a buzz outside Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Atlanta United FC had lost. The New York Red Bulls rallied to win 2-1 after the MLS expansion team scored its first goal in the 25th minute courtesy of Yamil Asad. Two late goals for New York, one of them an own goal by Atlanta United, spoiled the city's fun.

Except, they really didn't.

After the game, fans stepped over crushed beer cans and ducked underneath waving team flags to make their way-- not to their cars-- but to the vendors outside selling Atlanta United merchandise more than an hour after the match. They weren't quick to go home.

This is different.

I keep finding myself saying this when it comes to this team. 

The atmosphere outside Bobby Dodd before the game was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. It was wall-to-wall people. While paint floated in the air creating a hazy sky, fans in jerseys and face paint sang and chanted as they entered the stadium. 

Inside, I felt transported. I didn't feel like I was in Atlanta anymore.

I've seen other MLS clubs' fans on television. Their unity and coordination is something you don't find in any other American sports, not to this extent. Atlanta's fans looked experienced. It was as if Atlanta United had been a team for several seasons, and the fans' traditions were already in stone, such as the Golden Spike, the chants and the songs (I even heard a song at one point about head coach Tata Martino. I'd like to get the lyrics to that one at some point).

While it felt foreign, there were glimpses of Atlanta's traditional sports culture. Falcons, Braves and Hawks hats were visible in the crowd. Rap music played over the loud speakers, and fans even broke out into the Tomahawk Chop at one point. 

With the blending of cultures, it was as if the Atlanta sports scene formally accepted Atlanta United and allowed it to assimilate into its culture on Sunday. 

The big question now for Atlanta United: Will it last?

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What is Atlanta United's Golden Spike tradition? 

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As I stood on the field, watching the first goal scored in Atlanta United FC history, I couldn't help but wonder if this is how it felt back in the 1960s when fans witnessed the Atlanta Falcons' first game. The Falcons were a franchise formed in Atlanta, not having been in any city prior unlike the city's other professional teams. No one knew then what the franchise would become.

In 2017, here I was witnessing a true beginning in Atlanta sports. No history, only a future.

We know about the more than 30,000 season tickets sold for Atlanta United's inaugural year and the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The newness of the team is enough to keep the passion going for a couple years.

But what will this franchise's story be in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now? Will it even last that long?

With the rate in which MLS is growing, there's no reason to believe the league is going anywhere. But what about this team? Will the passion survive? 

Honestly, it's too soon to know.

However, Atlanta United FC has a talented team composed of homegrown and international talent. Add an experienced and acclaimed head coach and technical director to the mix, and there's no reason to believe this team won't be something special really soon.

That's something for the newly united soccer fans and Atlanta sports fans to be excited about.

There is no reason to believe the passion for Atlanta United FC on Sunday was a fluke.

PHOTOS | ATLUTD's inagurual match

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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