ATLANTA – (Sept. 10, 2017)
By Kent Kimes
Sr. Staff Writer
Are you ready for some futbol, downtown Atlanta?
A sold-out crowd of 45,314 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS) responded with an emphatic yes today as the Atlanta United played its first-ever game on its new home turf at the $1.5 billion state-of-the-art venue on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) downtown Atlanta campus.
It was another historical debut for the multi-purpose venue which officially opened its doors Aug. 26 with the Atlanta Falcons’ inaugural pre-season home game and followed that with a pair of Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games over the Labor Day weekend.
The Major League Soccer club – Atlanta’s first such franchise – began its inaugural season at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium in Midtown, posting a 6-2-1 record there while construction of MBS was completed. The team, owned by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, has been a hit on and off the field so far – battling for a playoff spot and winning over the city with pre-game festivities, watch-parties at local sports bars – and United flags adorning front porches across metro Atlanta.
Each of the United’s nine home matches at Bobby Dodd Stadium were sold out, and fans created an electric atmosphere at the venerable facility, wearing the team’s gold, black and victory red striped replica jerseys, waving flags and shouting the call and response chant,”Atlanta…United” from one side of the stadium to the other.
That energy transferred to MBS today, as the crowd roared for the first time when United players took the field at 3:07 p.m. for warm-ups prior to the 3:55 p.m. kickoff against FC Dallas – the first matchup between the clubs.
And they went wild when the first MLS goal in the stadium’s history was scored by the United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez at 4:09 p.m., giving the home team a 1-0 advantage during the game’s 14th minute. Atlanta held on for a 3-0 victory.
Also, prior to the game, many fans were cheering on the Falcons defeating the Chicago Bears in the Windy City. They watched the NFL action unfold on a multitude of video screens located throughout the building and erupted in bursts of applause with each pivotal play, all while United and Dallas players warmed up and readied for kick off.
After the Falcons sealed a 23-17 victory, the MBS crowd focused on the other type of football – or futbol – playing out on the pitch in front of them.
While Major League Soccer is new to the city, the sport is no stranger to the GWCCA campus. MBS’s next door neighbor, the Georgia Dome, hosted several soccer matches throughout its 25-year history, including the prestigious CONCACAF Gold Cup and various international friendlies.
Meanwhile, it’s a jam-packed opening month for the United at their new home with matches coming up at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 13) against the New England Revolution and a 4 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 16) contest with Orlando City. The United’s September schedule at MBS continues with games vs. L.A. Galaxy on Sept. 20, the Montreal Impact on Sept. 24, Philadelphia Union on Sept. 27 and a rematch against New England on Sept. 30.