The inaugural season is now underway for Atlanta's new Major League Soccer team. Atlanta United FC lost to the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s opener at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium. But, in other ways, the match was a “win” for the new team.
Twenty-five minutes into the game, Yamil Asad scored the first goal in Atlanta United history. Then, right at the end of the game, New York scored twice – finishing the game with an Atlanta defeat.
But what happened at the ticket booth was a victory for the new team. The game was a sellout. In fact, the team has sold more than 30,000 season tickets. That's a record for an MLS expansion team and the second-most tickets sold in the league this year.
John Cunha bought one of those season passes, even though he lives in Florida.
“I'm a huge soccer fan,” Cunha said. “I used to live in Atlanta, so I just wanted to be a part of the inaugural season. I care that much about soccer, yeah, big fan.”
Rosa Thurnher also has season tickets. She says she owns a Mexican restaurant and plans to show the games there, “because we want soccer to be in Atlanta and just wanted to get the spirit of soccer for the city."
Atlanta United needs fans like these. Two former attempts to keep top-tier pro teams here failed.
So what's different now? The answer might lie with children like Elizabeth Haley and her sister, Samantha.
“Our favorite thing to do is soccer," Elizabeth says. "And, we just play it all the time and love to watch it, so it's just our favorite thing to do."
The Haley sisters are among the 3 million kids U.S. Youth Soccer says now play the sport. That's about four times as many as when Atlanta's last professional soccer team folded.