The reviews are in, and Atlanta United’s players and coaches, expectedly, love their new home of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Training in the $1.5 billion building for the first time Saturday, the players got their first looks at the halo board that rings the inside of the retractable roof, the turf, the locker rooms, and everything that will help determine the team’s success starting Sept. 10 when it hosts Dallas in its first game at the stadium ... a few months later than expected.
“There’s not many stadiums, if any, in fact I don’t think there are any around the world that can compare to this,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who has played in soccer cathedrals such as Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Wembley in London, Old Trafford in Manchester and Anfield in Liverpool.
The players came in through a tunnel in the corner. It was the first time most had been in the building. The cellphones already were out and pointed up as they recorded their own personal histories in the venue. They slowly crossed the dark green field and walked through the game-day tunnel, turned left and entered their spacious locker room.
“It’s very big,” manager Gerardo Martino said of the team’s pregame and postgame area. “It’s very comfortable. It has all the accommodations that we need.”
The artificial turf, Fieldturf Revolution 360, also passed the eye test as well as the feel test. Martino said they expected that there would be a big difference in how the turf played compared with grass. He said he was wrong.
Guzan appreciated that there were no football lines. Captain Michael Parkhurst liked that the turf was wet, so it played fast, and that it was soft.
Midfielder Julian Gressel said he liked it even more than the real thing.
“You know what you get with it,” Gressel said. “It’s something we will get used to pretty quickly.”
There was one unexpected, but appreciated, element of the new stadium: the noise.
Though there were less than 20,000 fans in a stadium that can seat more than 70,000, it was still very loud. The roof being closed helped.
The stadium reached its loudest when Arthur Blank, who owns the Falcons and Atlanta United, walked onto and across the field during the middle of the team’s training.
“Even before practice started there was a murmur in the crowd, and that was pretty loud,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “It’s going to be good.”
The players stayed around after training. Some tried to punt balls into the roof. No one came close. Most, including Martino, interacted with the fans by signing autographs and posing for selfies.
It was difficult for the players to pinpoint one aspect of the stadium they liked most. The halo board, 6 stories tall, was a choice.
“It’s an exceptional stadium,” Martino said. “Hopefully, our play will be up to the level of the stadium.”