By Maria Saporta
The website Philly.com reported Sunday that Atlanta will receive the next franchise of the of Major League Soccer.
It is no secret that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been involved in detailed discussions with MLS to get an expansion team to Atlanta in time to play in the $1.2 billion stadium in 2017.
Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald quoted multiple sources saying that Atlanta would become the 22nd MLS franchise (not Miami which is still trying to put together a stadium deal).
A representative for Blank could not be reached Sunday.
But Blank actually spoke about his hopes to secure a soccer team for Atlanta during a two-hour session with students and faculty at Oglethorpe University on April 2 for its founder’s day program.
“We are not too far away from a linkage with Major League Soccer,” Blank said, receiving an enthusiastic holler from the audience. The person who cheered was the university’s soccer coach, who incidentally is trying to recruit Blank’s son, Joshua, to go to Oglethorpe and join its soccer team.
Blank talked about how he would want to build up an appreciation for soccer in Atlanta in much the same way that he was able to get fans to embrace the Falcons after 36 year of the football team never having back-to-back winning seasons.
“When we hopefully announce a Major League Soccer franchise, we hope it will be much more successful than other soccer teams have been in Atlanta,” Blank said. But then he added that “soccer still has got a long way to go” – both in Atlanta and in the United States.
But he did point to all the young people who have grown up playing soccer and developed a true affinity for the sport. Blank said the game has certainly evolved in the United States in the past 10 years.
“We looked at the sport seven years ago. It was an emerging league, only 20 years old. Half the teams were owned by two people,” Blank said. “The league has made tremendous progress since then. The opportunity for us in our new stadium is tremendous. It was uniquely designed to accommodate professional soccer . It will great.”
In the Philly.com story, a source said that Blank and MLS had targeted April 16 for an official announcement of an agreement.
When asked to comment on the story, Dan Courtemanche, executive vice president of communications for MLS, issued the following statement:
“We are continuing discussions with Arthur Blank to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Atlanta; however, we have not finalized an agreement at this time.”