Atlanta United wins MLS Cup and unites AtlantaCelebrating the MLS Cup win (Photo by David Luse)
By Maria Saporta
The curse is broken.
Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers Saturday night broke a long string of our professional sports teams getting close to winning the big prize, and then falling short.
The nervous energy was apparent days before match began.
At the MVP award ceremony on Wednesday, Angela Macuga Blank admitted privately about the pressure her husband – Arthur Blank – was experiencing because of “the curse.”
The painful memory of the 2017 Super Bowl was still too raw. During that game in Houston, the Atlanta Falcons led decisively for the first three quarters before permitting the New England Patriots to tie and beat the Falcons in overtime.
So close, but still no top prize.
Right before the match, Rich McKay, president of AMB Sports (which oversees the Falcons and Atlanta United), walked through the press box in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Asked how he felt about the game, McKay was surprisingly confident.
“We started planning for soccer in 2006,” said McKay, who was instrumental in the building of the new stadium and making sure it be a great home for soccer. In April 2014, Blank and Atlanta were awarded a new soccer franchise. Less than three years later, Atlanta United played its first game – at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech – before moving to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in September 2017.
Atlanta United mania began even before the inaugural season. By the time Atlanta United had started playing, it already had strong fan base.
Atlanta United Coach Gerando “Tata” Martino, speaking to journalists in Spanish after the game, said the executives behind the team had a “special plan” to build a winning team and they never deviated.
“They never modified any part of the plans,” Martino said, adding that’s what made Atlanta United successful. “The most satisfying thing to me is that we followed the plan – the best training facility in the league, the best team in the league. That’s what makes it most satisfying.”
Martino, who is leaving Atlanta United to manage Mexico’s national team, was asked how he felt.
“If I had to choose a way to leave someplace, this is the best way. But I made that decision before this game,” said Martino, before adding. “This is not the ceiling for Atlanta.”
Atlanta United is truly a homegrown team. It did not move here from another city as did the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks.
It has local ownership – Arthur Blank. Again, that’s not the case with the Braves or the Hawks. By having an Atlanta owner, it often translates into extra tender, love and care for a team.
Atlanta United appeals to Atlanta’s next generation – one that is embraced by people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as people of all age groups. An all-time record of 73,019 people filled the stadium. They all truly represent a united Atlanta.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was in the house, sending out several tweets including a photo of her holding a front page from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with the headline: “Champs.”
The one downside, however, was that neither Gov. Nathan Deal nor Gov.-elect Brian Kemp attended the MLS Cup match – unfortunately missing an opportunity to witness the magic that has captivated the Atlanta region – a magic that also could infiltrate throughout Georgia.
At least Gov. Deal joined Mayor Bottoms and Arthur Blank during the parade festivities Monday morning, The parade reinforced the feeling that Atlanta is indeed a welcoming city.
This is a moment to celebrate. Atlanta United has made us a more inclusive community.
And our beloved soccer team has broken the curse.