Atlanta has not won a championship in a major sport since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995. Will the city’s pain pressure or empower Atlanta United as they look to win their first MLS Cup?
It was all over. The Atlanta Falcons had won the Super Bowl. That was the thought of almost everyone. A 25-point lead with just 2:12 to run in the third quarter. Surely they had done enough.
As we all know, they had not. The New England Patriots launched a staggering comeback, surging back in the fourth quarter and ultimately winning with a James White touchdown in overtime. The Atlanta pain would persist.
That pain — the pain of not having won a championship in a major sport — extends all the way back to 1995. That was when the Atlanta Braves won the World Series.
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And now Atlanta United have a chance to end that pain. The Five Stripes have amassed more points over the past two seasons in MLS than any other player. They are one of the very best teams in the league. And they are three matches from winning the MLS Cup.
"“It’s a beautiful opportunity for us to give that joy to the people of Atlanta. I think the team has already made history in every sense, but [a championship] is what is missing.”"
Miguel Almiron understands that this is a rare chance for the city of Atlanta, a city that has united in an unprecedented way behind the Five Stripes. Defender Greg Garza, similarly, recognises that this insatiable quest for a trophy is for the people and the city:
"“I think for us it’s about doing this for the city of Atlanta. I think the stadium we have and the people that support us is something definitely to look forward to.”"
But is this city’s sporting pain a point of empowerment or pain? Like last year, when Atlanta United entered the playoffs dreaming of a postseason run, they fell on the biggest stage, spurned by Zach Steffen and the Columbus Crew. They then squandered the opportunity to win the Supporters’ Shield this season, first losing to the New York Red Bulls in the final weeks of the season and then handing it to their Eastern rivals with a 4-1 humiliation against Toronto FC.
While the players may protest that they are ‘doing this for the city of Atlanta’, could that actually be a pressuring, shackling statement, not an inspiring one? The history would suggest that it might be.
Still, it is clear that the players are aware of the sporting context of Atlanta. As Brad Guzan states:
"“We know it’s been quite some time, and that’s part of our motivation as well. This city has been fantastic to this team and this club for the two years we’ve been in existence [on the field]. To give them a championship in Year 2 would be phenomenal.”"
But, in the end, will that help or hinder their elusive search for a first major championship sports title in 23 years?