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How Atlanta became the US soccer capital

From the bottom to the top in just two seasons

How Atlanta became the US soccer capital From the bottom to the top in just two seasons

Googling "atlanta calcio" something special and half funny happened to me, that surely I would have had to wait: after having done the search, the writing appeared 'maybe you were looking for Atalanta football'. Here, this small and stupid episode is the basis from which to start talking about the Atlanta United, a team of which many, until yesterday, ignored the existence. Then two days ago they won the MLS (beating Portland Timbers in the final 2-0) and started to talk about himself. So much to force to update the original franchise's motto, 'Unite and Conquer', in 'United we Conquered'.

The Atlanta United basically did not exist until two years ago. The club was born in 2014, but began to take the field only in 2017. Yet the idea of ​​founding an Atlanta football team had been flashing in the minds of entrepreneurs for some time. The problem, however, was the sports facility: without a stadium, without a home, the team could not exist. Finally came Arthur Blank and things have changed radically: already owner of the Atlanta Falcons (American football), in 2012 he managed to get great support thanks to his choice to build a new stadium that hosted both soccer and football. The state of Georgia approved the project and so began the construction of the Mercedes Benz-Stadium, a colossal plant with more than 70,000 seats (and 1.6 billion dollars), that maybe someone of you already remember because last summer hosted the friendly match between Juventus and MLS All-Stars.

The story of Atlanta United, as mentioned, begins in 2017, and the project is immediately very ambitious: the property decides not to follow the example of other MLS teams and does not have a high-sounding name, no old glory. On the contrary, the choice is to focus on a young and well organized team. As coach, Gerardo 'El Tata' Martino is chosen (yes, the former coach of Barcelona) and the average age of the team is around 25 years.

In a team of youngsters, however, there was also the need of experienced players like Bobby Boswell, who in a recent interview revealed what he thought was the key to the team's success:

"From the moment I arrived (August 2017), we trained for 24 days in a row. In all these days we have focused on any kind of physical training. And every time we have worked on playing the ball and foot exits from the defense. Every, single, day".

Intensity, organization, careful preparation. The sudden success of Atlanta United is the result of foresight and stubbornness, even at the cost of going against the rules:

"We trained a lot and, after a few days I was there, the football association had already repaid three fines to the company because they were not granted the right days of rest for the players. They did not give us enough free time for them ".

The Tata Martino, however, has not stopped applying his method (exit ball to foot, attack of space), which within two years led the team to win the first championship of his brief history. One of the protagonists of this wonderful ride was certainly the Venezuelan Josef Martinez, who in Serie A is remembered as little more than an appearance with the Turin shirt. In MLS has become a goal machine: 31 goals and 5 assists in the regular season, 4 goals and an assist in the playoffs (one also in the final) and a way to kick the penalties that someone called "the perfect method".

Martinez, however, is only a cog in the great car built by Tata Martino, who by now will leave Atlanta to go to train the Mexican national team. Also the Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiròn (born in 1994) will say goodbye after having raised the trophy, for him there is talk of a future in the Premier League. Who will join the Atlantic cause instead is Gonzalo 'Pity' Martinez, fresh Copa Libertadores winner with River Plate: "I will play with this team the Club World Cup, then in January I will go to Atlanta," he said. "It's the company that he believed in me more, I will go to play in a fast growing championship". And Martinez can not be wronged.

In Atlanta, football exploded suddenly, overwhelmed by a passion out of the ordinary by the fans: the American team recorded the record figure of 53 million viewers on average for each game, surpassing the 70,000 for 8 times in the season spectators in the stands, and during the final was reached the all-time record of MLS.

After the festivities and after the records, in Atlanta it is (already) time to plan the future again. First the dutiful greetings to Tata Martino, then the wait for the new coach, which according to the last rumors could be Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who led the Boca Juniors up to the Copa Libertadores final. If he really had to get on the American bench, Schelotto would do it with a great desire to rebuild and build something new as quickly as possible. In full "Atlanta style", we can (already) say.

And who knows if in some time, going on Google to find the latest news on Atalanta, do not appear the writing 'maybe you were looking for Atlanta'.