Atlanta United spoiled Nashville SC’s first experience of MLS. Nashville are starting the story that Atlanta have mastered. This is a tale of two expansion debuts.
On March 5, 2017, 55,297 fans gathered in Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta to watch Atlanta United for their first-ever Major League Soccer match. Three years later, thousands of those same Atlanta supporters made the quick trip to Nashville to watch another franchise begin their MLS journey.
Both games ended in 2-1 final scorelines. The first coming against a loss to the New York Red Bulls and the other a victory over Nashville SC in Atlanta’s first win on opening day to start the 2020 season.
Talk to any Atlanta supporter and they will remember where they were on that night in March. Whether it be in the stadium, across the street at The Varsity, or at home, watching the beginning of their franchise was a significant moment. And now, as they just finished witnessing the beginning of another franchise, the Five Stripes have experienced two expansion stories.
In 2017, a lot of Atlanta United supporters were unsure of what to expect, as is with virtually the case with every expansion side. Names like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron didn’t have the weight they do now. But with the wallet of owner Arthur Blank investing in the team, there was tentative hope that something special could occur. I’m not sure anyone knew what was coming.
Now in their fourth season, Arthur Blank’s team has become a leader in MLS on and off the field. And against Nashville, they sat in a much different spot than they did in 2017.
Against Nashville, Atlanta was the team spoiling the party, much like the New York Red Bulls did three years ago. Unlike 2017, though, fans know exactly what to expect from their side in 2020: trophies.
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The side has gone through many key changes, whether it be Julian Gressel, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez or Michael Parkhurst’s departures in the offseason, Gonzalo Martinez arriving to succeed Miguel Almiron, or Tata Martino exiting at the top with Frank de Boer arriving as the new head coach. But that doesn’t change the high standard Atlanta has set, and now other expansion sides like Nashville look up to that standard and hope to improve on it for their own clubs.
It seems impossible but it has taken only three seasons for United to go from the expansion side to now the standard by which other clubs are measured. But that’s exactly what they have done, and it is a credit to Blank, Darren Eales and the entire management at the club.
For Nashville specifically, their proximity to Atlanta makes it even more pressing that the club does well. Supporters in the music city have watched what their southern counterparts have. And now that they have their shot, they want to be even better.
March 5, 2017 was the start of something special in Atlanta, the south and American soccer. But that day is in the past and now the Five Stripes sit on the other side of expansion as the team to beat in every way.