ATLANTA – It was record-breaking day for Major League Soccer on Sunday.
The previous league mark was established just last month when 70,425 fans watched Atlanta battle Orlando City to a 3-3 draw.
This is Atlanta United’s first year in MLS, but they are not your typical expansion franchise. They were ambitious right from the get-go, spending big to land young South American stars Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, signing a marquee coach in former Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino, and adding MLS veterans in Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst.
As a result, Atlanta was competitive in its debut MLS campaign, clinching a playoff and fighting for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. They also played an attacking brand of soccer, and had the second-ranked offence in MLS ahead of this weekend.
Doug Roberson covers Atlanta United FC for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. He credits team owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL’s Falcons, for investing time and money in building an expansion side that has been able to compete right out of the gate.
“People knew when Arthur Blank got involved, as the owner of the Falcons and what he’s done with them, that he was going to do everything he could to put a winning MLS team on the field,” Roberson told Sportsnet.
“They’ve come out and under Martino they are playing a goal-scoring style of soccer that translates to great entertainment.”
With all of this in mind, it’s not so surprising that Atlanta has drawn big crowds in its first MLS season.
“I think they’ve done a good job of building the team. Hiring Martino, he’s obviously an experienced guy and he knows the types of players that he wants to bring in. He was able to attract some players to this league that maybe wouldn’t have come otherwise, but they came to play for Atlanta. That’s a credit to him,” TFC coach Greg Vanney told Sportsnet.
The league’s front office has taken notice of what’s going on in Atlanta this season, too. MLS commissioner Don Garber is holding a press conference in Atlanta on Monday evening when he is expected to announce that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the 2018 MLS All-Star Game.
Sunday’s match was the regular-season finale for both Toronto and Atlanta, and their second meeting this year – the teams played to a 2-2 draw at BMO Field back in April – although they could meet again in the playoffs.
The all-time MLS attendance record remains 92,650 for a Chivas USA-New England Revolution match at the LA Coliseum in 2006. But that contest was part of a doubleheader that also featured a friendly between Spanish giants FC Barcelona and Mexican outfit Club América.