01/13/2019 -- Marietta, Georgia -- Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) speaks with members of the media, including Doug Roberson on the right, following a training with the team at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Monday, January 13, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Covering Atlanta United in uncertain times

Doug Roberson covers Atlanta United. He has covered soccer in the city since 2009 and the team since before its founding in 2014. 

He reached out his hand to shake. 

How many times have I shaken hands with someone? No matter. 

I reached out my hand. 

The respectful gesture took less than a second. 

I’ve thought about it for much more than a second every day since. 

The moment happened a few hours before Atlanta United’s March 7 home game against Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Three weeks now feels like three years ago. 

That’s one of the effects I’m experiencing because of the situations forced on us to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus

I’d been reading about the virus for several weeks, starting in January. 

Then, while it was still in China, I started to develop topic fatigue with the subject. I would read headlines. That’s it. 

My family and in-laws had planned and paid for a trip to Universal in Florida in February. 

I began to wonder if we should go. 

My concern is that resorts like Universal attract people from around the world. It’s part of what makes trips fun. I did worry about residents of China coming. At the time, that’s the only place the virus was located. 

My wife and I discussed it a few times. We mentioned it to her parents. 

We took the trip. 

After a few days, we began to realize as we walked around the park that we weren’t hearing Mandarin, which my wife can speak and understand in significant bits and phrases. 

Though we did try to take certain precautions, we stopped worrying about the virus. 

The week after we returned the effects of the virus began to avalanche. 

I covered Atlanta United’s next game at Kennesaw State. There was an announced attendance of more than 8,400. 

Think about that now in the context of social distancing. 

The newspaper’s leadership wisely decided that there would be no international travel. My trip to Mexico to cover Atlanta United in the Champions League was canceled. 

Though visiting Estadio Azteca was a bucket list item, I was relieved not to go. It was just the fourth game played by Atlanta United that I haven’t covered. I joke that I’ve seen more games live than anyone involved with the team. 

Now consider the more than 69,000 in announced attendance 10 days later against Cincinnati. 

I was very nervous to attend and cover that game. 

Though we are in an enclosed press box exposure is exposure. 

There are still lots of people in the box.

You are touching paper.

You are touching ladles.

You are touching furniture.

You are touching buttons, handrails, counters, cups. It boggles the mind.

I shot a spot for an out-of-town TV station before the game on the concourse outside the building. Shook hands with the reporter. I began to do a mental inventory of the people that I had shaken hands with that week. Each shake a possibility to give or receive. Scary.

The steps taken by MLS since have been well-documented. A short training suspension. A suspension of games. A longer training suspension

There is no resumption of either training or games in sight. 

There may not be for several weeks. 

It’s odd to be a beat reporter without access to a beat. 

I’ve been antsy. 

I’ve been anxious. 

I’ve worried.

My wife is employed by a local hospital. I worry about her.

I worry because I like to work. 

I love to work. 

Part of it is the routine. 

Part of it is presenting information. 

Part of it is trying to create something that’s unique every day and unique to everything else. 

Sometimes I succeed. 

Sometimes I don’t. 

I’d give anything to shake someone else’s hand right now.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.