The “experts” said Major League Soccer wouldn’t work in Atlanta. But with the construction of the jaw-dropping, $1.5 billion Mercedes Benz Stadium now complete, Atlanta United FC now has a proper home for its rabid fan base to fill.
Eight by Eight was on hand to witness the first 90 at the Benz, a 3-0 demolition of FC Dallas in front of 45,314 soccer-savvy supporters who forgot how to sit down for 90 minutes, including former President Jimmy Carter. (Since then, they’ve scored 17 goals and allowed just three, earning two wins and an MLS attendance-record-breaking draw against rivals Orlando City.)
For fans of football in Atlanta, the inaugural game was the culmination of years of waiting, wishing, and hoping. “This is my Christmas Day,” said Pete Fisher before the first match. He’s better known to Atlanta United supporters as @SantaUnited and debuted his red jumpsuit and voluminous white beard for the historic match.
Hispanic fan groups La 12 and Delta 17 brought a 10-yard-wide banner hand-painted in Argentina that featured the faces of every native Spanish speaker on the squad. “That’s our culture; we’re balls to the wall,” Delta 17 leader Andrea Bustamante said proudly. “These guys came, and they’re our blood. That’s what it is.”
In the locker room and post match conference, Manager Tata Martino and his players used the words “incredible” and “lucky” over and over again to describe their new surroundings after the opening win. Captain Michael Parkhurst, an eight-year MLS veteran, said that long after he’s retired he’ll still share the story of the inaugural match. “I’ll tell them about the crowd, the sellout, the noise, the support that we got leading up to this game,” he said. “Everything was just amazing.”