Looking Back on the First-Ever Atlanta United FC Match against New York Red Bulls, and Looking Ahead

I was at the first Atlanta United soccer match ever. I make this post a few months after the fact because I’m about to attend my second match this upcoming weekend against Columbus Crew, and I’ve now had a great deal of time to think about the opening match and how the team has evolved since then.

First off, I must remark on how much support has poured out across Metro Atlanta for this soccer club. I thought the team would be pretty popular, and I’m sure Mr. Blank must’ve thought so, too, or he wouldn’t have bought a franchise… but it’s really been crazy. It’s amazing to see Bobby Dodd packed every single home match. You can hear them roaring through the tv. The commentators pause often because they are awestruck by the volume coming from the crowd. And the chants! The Viking clap, the side-vs-side Atlanta United yells, the entire stadium transforming into a choir for the national anthem. Soccer is the beautiful game for a reason.

All of that is great, and I’m extremely excited to be getting back down to the Flats for another match. When I went back in March, I suppose you could say that the fan experience was still a work in progress. The stadium was woefully understaffed, although I didn’t go to the concessions anyway. The fan didn’t really have many proper chants or anything; we kind of just screamed or devolved into shouting “A-T-L” over and over.

The first goal in Atlanta United’s history, Yamil Asad’s score off a beautiful cross from Tyrone Mears… That moment will live on in Atlanta sports history for a long time, I think. Still, we lost the game after blowing a late lead, and we showed there something which will have to improve over time: a lack of cohesion.

Since that first match, it’s seemed like Atlanta has been a very hit-or-miss club. Obviously, Josef Martinez’s injury was a massive blow, not just for the loss of a scorer but for the chemistry which could have been built up in the attack if he were playing the entire season. Miguel Almirón, on the other hand, has been improving every match and is a great joy to watch. The key for Atlanta United needs to be improved chemistry, and I’m sure that’ll only come with time. My only worry is that the improved chemistry at the tail end of the season will be offset by fatigue since the last month or two of Atlanta’s schedule will be packed to the brim.

I’m excited to see the team live again next Saturday (6/17) against Columbus, but before then, I’m hoping we put our best foot forward against Charleston Battery in Kennesaw on Wednesday in the US Open Cup. It’s a fun tournament, and it represents Atlanta United’s best chance to earn a trophy and a CONCACAF Champions League berth this season.

Will Basketball Replace Football and Baseball as America’s Top Sport?

I haven’t posted for awhile, and honestly, I was just wanting to make any sort of basketball post. I’ve been playing a ton of basketball lately. It’s a fun game.

However, as the title says, I want to know if it can not just be a fun game, but the fun game. Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@ATLknight7) obviously knows how much I adore soccer and the local club, Atlanta United, and I really do think soccer’s time is coming… just not yet. But the tides are shifting in American sports culture. 

Millenials are the generation which will determine which sport is the most popular in a few years when they are the largest television demographic, and quite frankly, a lot of millenials find baseball boring. I agree with them to the point that there are more exciting sports, but I usually watch baseball to relax, not to “get hype”. Millenials don’t generally watch baseball to relax, or even tv at all; they watch Netflix.

The problem on the football side is a bit different. Concussion awareness is good for keeping people safe, but it’s ruining the future of the game. People may love to watch football, but parents don’t want their kids playing football anymore. The effect isn’t going to be immediate, but as more and more good atheletes turn down football in favor of basketball and soccer, the quality on the field will decline. Football will be a business with a poor product, and Americans won’t pay to watch a bad show.

Now, what about basketball? It’s 1) exciting and 2) safe. Yes, you can get injured terribly playing basketball, but it’s not as common as football injuries. Moreover, basketball players don’t suffer from repetitive head trauma like football players do since basketball is a sport which is generally played upright. Basketball also doesn’t have any problem exciting its fans; we see that every NBA seasons, and we especially see that with NCAA’s annual March Madness tournament. Basketball is electric. The fans love it.

So what is preventing basketball from overtaking football and baseball? In my mind, nothing but time. 

The 2017 MLS Expansion Process and the Coup Which Snubbed Sacramento Republic FC

Yesterday, twelve prospective ownership groups submitted their bids in competition for the 25th-28th franchises of Major League Soccer. The 12 cities involved will be judged over the upcoming months with regards to the feasibility, sustainability, and community support behind their bids, with the 25th and 26th franchises set to be unveiled sometime later this year.

Yesterday there was some turmoil in the bidding process with regards to the frontrunner, Sacramento. According to numerous sources which have been somewhat validated today from this official club press release, the city’s immensely popular USL (second division) club, Sacramento Republic FC, has been omitted from Sacramento’s expansion bid. The cause of this omission is evidently a dispute between the main investor behind the bid, Kevin Nagle, and the existing ownership group of SRFC. The move has led many Republic supporters to take up the cry of “#NoRepublicNoParty” on Twitter, and the story has since been taken up by leading sports news sites like Deadspin and Goal.

Before yesterday, I would have thought Sacramento to be two shoes in for the 25th slot, but now I’m not so sure. I think Sacramento will likely still get into MLS during this round of expansion due to their stadium plan and high levels of support within the city, but I say this under the assumption that MLS commissioner Don Garber will be able to successfully moderate a solution between Republic and Nagle. We’ll give them the 25th slot still despite the mix-up yesterday.

The second city I’d look at is Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati set records in their inaugural season last year for the highest single-game and season total USL attendances ever, and they’ve already amassed the sort of fanbase that you’d expect to see out of a ten-year-old club. Although the club has not yet released a stadium plan associated with their bid to the public, the wealthy Lindner family which owns the team should have the capital and connections to privately finance any stadium they desire. I’m thinking Cincy will be the 26th expansion team.

The third city I believe will get a bid would also become the third city in Texas to host an MLS team, San Antonio. San Antonio FC is a second-year USL franchise playing at Toyota Field, formerly the home of the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions.Their current stadium was built to be expandable, so they already have that in place. They are also owned by the same group which owns the San Antonio Spurs, so I would expect them to piggy-back off the Spurs’ brand and market themselves well within the city. San Antonio is also home to many Hispanic Americans, a demographic which MLS sees as valuable. I expect San Antonio to grab the 27th spot in the expansion round.

The final slot, I think, is a bit more uncertain than the others which I admittedly feel are in strong positions. With that in mind, I’m predicting that Major League Soccer will select Phoenix to be included in this round of expansion. While Phoenix and its current USL club, Phoenix Rising FC (formerly Arizona United SC),  may not currently possess the wealth of support you already see in competing bidders such as Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and North Carolina FC, Phoenix Rising FC does possess one important asset which MLS will likely value over all others: location, location, location. As of now, Phoenix represents the largest market in the United States and Canada without a Major League Soccer franchise. Indy and Detroit are in an increasingly saturated Midwest, and Tampa would be (presumably) the third team in Florida. Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh (NCFC), St. Louis, and San Diego also bid, but their markets aren’t in as valuable of locations as Phoenix. Additionally, Phoenix Rising’s stacked ownership group ought to have enough funds to come up with a proper stadium, and the rendering they released yesterday look pretty nice. Phoenix gets the 28th spot.

My Predictions for the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game

Tonight, two titanic programs, Clemson and Alabama, will meet in the College Football Playoff Championship Game for the second consecutive year. I figured I’d get my thoughts about the game down on paper here so I might reflect upon them later this week.

Last year, the game was hectic, but Alabama emerged as the victor. This year, the stage is set much in the same way: a seemingly invincible Alabama Crimson Tide team is the heavy favorite against an older Clemson Tigers team led by Deshaun Watson. I think the game will be one for the ages. Nick Saban’s firing of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will have the offense operating slightly different, and Dabo Swinney will be looking to take advantages of area where Steve Sarkisian’s playcalling may differ from Kiffin’s.

Despite the 45-40 score at the end of last year’s game in favor of Alabama, Clemson actually had more firstdowns (31 as compared to 18) and total yards (550-473) than the Tide. It’s clear that Clemson’s offense is fully capable of scoring even against Alabama’s superb defense.

In a game where all the cards will lay face-up on the table, veteran leadership is needed. I think Alabama’s freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts, will stumble under the spotlight. For the 2017 National Championship Game, I’ve got Clemson winning over Alabama by a score of 35 to 31.

A Quick Look at Atlanta United’s Inaugural Preseason

Seen here, Atlanta United FC’s first preseason is as follows:

  • 2/11/17 ~ @ Chattanooga FC (Exhibition)
  • 2/18/17 ~ vs. Columbus Crew SC (Carolina Challenge Cup)
  • 2/22/17 ~ vs. Seattle Sounders FC (Carolina Challenge Cup)
  • 2/25/17 ~ @ Charleston Battery (Carolina Challenge Cup)

In my opinion, it’s fitting for ATLUTD’s first match of any sort to come against Chattanooga FC. ‘Nooga is a perennial powerhouse in the NPSL’s Southeast Divison. Their stadium seats over 20000, so I’m sure there will be a raucous crowd of Atlantans and Chattahooligans (their supporters’ group name) alike taking up song for the match. It’ll be interesting to see if this could develop into a yearly or biannual matchup; Chattanooga’s success in the NPSL grants them frequent US Open Cup births, so it’s likely the clubs could meet there in the future.

The other three games of the current preseason slate are part of the Carolina Challenge Cup, a weekly preseason tournament hosted by Charleston Battery in Charleston, South Carolina. Columbus is coming off a bad season and will likely be trying out new playmakers such as their new DP, Ghanaian Johnathan Mensah. Seattle Sounders, on the other hand, are coming off their first MLS Cup victory. The real question is whether or not Clint Dempsey will be fully back to his old self after missing a healthy chunk of this past season with an irregular heartbeat. The match with Charleston Battery should be the most lighthearted of the three fixtures at the Carolina Challenge Cup; numerous ATLUTD players were on loan at Charleston during the last USL season. The boys’ll just be out there having fun against Charleston.

An Assessment of the 2016 Rio Olympics; Brazil’s Redemption

The Olympic Games have come and gone, and I think that Rio de Janeiro has put on a fairly acceptable showing. Maybe the waters weren’t the cleanest, the city the safest, the fans the nicest, or the diving pool the clearest, but at least nothing catastrophic happened, right? Brazil is going through a rough time. Corruption is still the main player in its government, its people are poor, and its streets are filthy. These Summer Olympic Games offered the country a great opportunity to reinvigorate itself and inspire a diverse population into fanfare.

With the Men’s Soccer (Football) tournament, Brazil managed to reignite its people. When Neymar converted the gold-winning penalty kick against Germany, the entire nation erupted in happiness. The Brazilian U-23 national men’s soccer team burst into tears of joy, for they had won the most desired medal of the Games for their country.

In the end, that’s what the Olympics is all about. Does Fiji care that they didn’t win 20 medals? Nope. They care that they won a gold medal in rugby. Does Brazil care that they put on a fairly embarassing performance given the number of athletes they brought and the fact that they were the host? Nope. They just care that they won a gold medal in soccer. The Olympics are about bringing the world together to celebrate sports, and despite all of Rio’s shortcomings, these Games did manage that one thing, at least.

My Personal Expectations for Atlanta United FC’s Inaugural MLS Season

With the first season for 2017 MLS expansion team Atlanta United FC less than seven months away, it seems like a good time to voice my current expectations for the 2017 MLS season. The team has started making some proper player acquisitions. Atlanta has its first Designated Player in winger Héctor Villalba (on loan to Tijuana), a target striker in Kenwyne Jones (on loan to Central F.C.), and the team’s first Homegrown Player in Andrew Carleton (on loan to Charleston Battery). A head coach will presumably be hired before New Year’s, and the rest of the roster will be filled in the preseason transfer window.

Atlanta United has been making some great moves thus far, but the fact remains: MLS expansion teams struggle. New players are not used to travelling vast distances to away games. New teams don’t gain cohesion until halfway through the season. During last year’s 2015 MLS season, the two expansion clubs, Orlando City SC and New York City FC, both failed to make the playoffs. They finished 7th and 8th in the Eastern Conference, respectively. Neither team made the playoffs despite both of them having rosters that look stacked on paper. Why should it be any different for Atlanta?

Luckily for Atlanta, they’ll not be tied to an overseas ownership situation like Orlando City and NYCFC’s where the owners just throw money at their teams and expect results to magically appear. Atlanta United has the benefit of in-house, Atlantan management. Owner Arthur Blank has invested a great deal of money in his new project, and he will not let it fall flat right out of the gates. The ticket sales are already done; there are over 22,000 season tickets sold as of today. As long as the product is decent, Atlanta United FC should get off to a rip-roaring start.

So how exactly should we expect the team to fare in its first season? Right now, I’m expecting Atlanta to make the playoffs. The team won’t be spectacular, but they should do well enough to best some fellow Eastern Conference opponents. There’s no reason to think Columbus will magically improve over the offseason. Chicago Fire is a perpetual basket case under its current ownership. Minnesota United, Atlanta’s expansion pairing, doesn’t appear to be preparing with the same level of purpose as Atlanta. The only major problem Atlanta faces right now is the prospect of further stadium delays; Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn’t set to open until midseason.

Regardless of the stadium situation and my prediction of a mid-table playoff berth, it’ll still be Atlanta United’s first season. They could be the first team to win an MLS Cup in their first year. They could go completely winless and get drawn into a fierce battle for last place with Chicago Fire. In either outcome and every one in between, I just hope that there will be a team on the field in 2017 that can make the people of Atlanta and all the Southeast proud to be soccer fans.

Why The Olympic Games Are Important

With all of the controversy surrounding the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, right now, there have been some murmurs of halting the Olympics altogether sometime in the near future. People are starting to think that the logistics, immense costs, and terrorism threats associated with hosting the Olympic Games outweigh the benefits that the Games bring to the table. I think these people are wrong.

At their core, the Olympic Games are international sporting events, but in a broader search for the true meaning behind the Games, we can view them as a celebration of the entire world community and a method to maintain peace within this community. Bringing the world closer together can have no negative effects; even when tensions are harsh between countries, the Games give rival nations a place to compete with scores and times instead of bombs and bullets. We saw this happen throughout the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Just this past week in Rio, a South Korean gymnast and her North Korean gymnast took a selfie together, a happy moment between two athletes from warring sides of a single coin.

Perhaps Rio will not be the most spectacular Olympiad in the history of the Games. The Zika virus is thriving in Brazil. Raw sewage flows in the city’s waters. The government is corrupt. The hills surrounding Rio are veritable fortresses for criminals. And to top it all off — as more of a symbol of the Games’ poor show than anything — the water in the diving pool turned green. The International Olympic Committee obviously needs to take more care when selecting cities to host the Olympic Games, but should we stop celebrating the world’s greatest athletes? Should we stop the Olympics outright? Absolutely not.