Unite and Conquer

By Brandon Bush

 

On May 31, 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers of the National Hockey League left the country and relocated to Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Atlanta was no longer the host city to the four major professional sports.

However, this move was only the beginning of renewed talks to bring Atlanta into the fold of a growing league:Major League Soccer.

On April 16, 2014, Atlanta once again completed the circle of having four professional sports teams when Atlanta United FC, also known as “The Five Stripes” due to the design of their home kits, was founded. Today, Atlanta United currently sits atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 11-3-4, among the best in the whole league.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of the latest United victories on Saturday when the top dogs of the league hosted rival Orlando City. This was my second trip to Mercedes-Benz on business this year, the first being the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day (I have yet to come to a game to watch the Falcons, something I hope to change soon).

After this trip, I can safely say that Atlanta United might be my new favorite fan base. I had always heard soccer fans claim that they are the rowdiest type of fans, surpassing the likes of football or hockey, but after seeing the dedication of the United fanbase and the level of tenacity they brought with them, I might believe it.

The tailgating area for United fans features a number of the team’s major fan clubs, including Resurgence – one of the biggest fan groups. The various fan clubs hold events and celebrate their love of the team with each other, sometimes getting loud, rowdy and intoxicated in the process.

The general camaraderie and passion of the Atlanta United fan base is surprising to me. For a franchise that has existed for such a small amount of time, it’s already built a huge following that has helped propel it into a culture of excellence, as evidenced by its successful campaign so far in 2018.

That is all the more reason why United’s fans have become my favorite fan base. The fans have been here since the beginning and they will continue to remain a presence in the soccer world as this team goes on to be a force in the MLS.

I spent the first half in the press box, a place I am familiar with from my last visit. As always, the people at Mercedes-Benz took great care of all the media personnel that were present, even stepping it up a notch from my last visit with well-prepared food rather than grabbing some Chick-fil-A from down the hall (I wouldn’t complain if that was the case, though).

From the best seat in the house, I was able to watch Atlanta score a goal in the opening minutes of the game. Of course, it was thanks to the Five Stripes’ deadliest weapon, Josef Martinez.

However, United’s other star player had a huge day as Miguel Almironscored two goals during the game and earned the Golden Spike – Atlanta United’s MVP of the Game award stemming from a tradition that began in the franchise’s inaugural season.

I was able to get to field level and stand close to the goal in which United was attacking in the second half, and I got to see Almiron’s two goals as United took control of the game. In between those two Almiron goals, however, is the most memorable goal for me.

Ezequiel Barco scored the Stripes’ third goal of the night, after which he ran right past me on his way to celebrate with a group of backups near the corner of the field. In that moment, I took what I personally consider to be one of, if not the best, sport picture I have taken so far in my career.

The photo was of Barco running toward the sideline with his arms spread out and a huge smile on his face. It doesn’t seem like that special of a photo at first glance but, to me, it looked like a picture that could have been used with an online article from a major publication.

Not to brag; as I said, it's not that special of a photo, but it was a special moment for me in my career.

The game ended after a couple of extra minutes were added to the game clock, and the entire stadium erupted in jubilation that I have never seen before. Hearing the thundering chants of “A-T-L” solidified this team as a legitimate sports pillar of Atlanta.

We may never get another NHL team in Atlanta again but, thanks to Atlanta United, you can’t say that there aren’t four major sports teams in A-Town. I can guarantee one thing to any ATLien or any Georgian who may come across this column: stand with Atlanta United, because this is the team that will bring the city and state a championship.

Unite and Conquer. ATL.

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