Now we find out just what kind of soccer town this is.
It has been easy – too easy – to fall under the spell of a brash new club that suffered no growing pains, that immediately went to work showing the rest of Major League Soccer how to go about its business. Atlanta United proceeded directly from birth to role modeling with none of the messy steps in between. In a mere two years, it took off like kudzu.
Year Three has been a slap in the face with a whole, wet, dead-eyed mackerel of reality. It has not been the kind of season that invites the fair-weather fan or the faint of heart. A step back had to happen sometime, that’s an immutable law of sport. That doesn’t make this any less of a shock to the system.
In the midst of a middling season, with a new coach and new approach winning few friends, Atlanta’s place as American soccer’s Xanadu certainly will be tested. Told it was special all the time while filling up an NFL football stadium with a boisterous, diverse, utterly hip soccer mob, Atlanta has the same sporting attention deficit as anywhere else. Beware, we can be fickle, too.
In the first two seasons, it was all parades and goal celebrations and looking around a full, noisy stadium in amazement, as if you took a wrong turn on Peachtree and ended up in Manchester. With Sunday’s loss at Seattle – United is a woeful 3-7 on the road – United has won nine, lost eight and played to three draws. The ordinary has enveloped this team like a beige fog. United is 1-3-1 in its last five MLS games, the worst such stretch since the team’s second month of existence.
The goals once came in relative abundance, United playing a brand of soccer that fired the imagination and kept the undecideds decidedly interested. Scoring, that most precious commodity, has dried up. As the Braves have discovered the home run, United has misplaced its version of the long ball. The first two years, it scored four goals or more 11 times, and three goals or more 22 times. Thus far this season, it has yet to score more than three goals in an MLS game. And has gone for three goals just three times.
Such was this franchise’s sudden success that it was being measured on a global scale, as if breaking the humble bonds of the MLS and soaring to another level. World domination seems just a bit further off today.
Whatever happens this season, soccer will remain important in Atlanta. United is built upon a solid base. But sometimes the volume gets turned down, that’s all. It couldn’t always remain at AC/DC levels for this team.
Being a fan – and certainly being a fan of anything Atlanta – means living with often large amounts of disillusionment and regret. Welcome to the flip side of glory, United people. You have been spoiled and spared until now. Winning isn’t as easy as your team made it look just right out of the box.
Even as endless as the MLS season appears, it is finite. United has a bit more than two months to put on enough makeup to at least resemble a defending champion come the postseason.
As for those new feelings the local soccer community is experiencing – anger and frustration – embrace them, because that means you care.
The soccer fans will endure. The dilettantes might be wavering.
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