Kyle Yessa keeps warm with his tailgate crew at The Gulch before the Atlanta United game. (Photo: Carrie Teegardin/AJC)
Photo: Carrie Teegardin
Photo: Carrie Teegardin

Atlanta United fans brave rain, cold to tailgate

Atlanta United’s fan base wasn’t deterred by constant rain and cold temperatures during the pregame hours Saturday afternoon.

The tailgate crowd was assembled under a sea of tents at the Gulch as they kept warm huddled around portable heaters, grills and even a giant smoker preparing a whole hog.

Kyle Yessa and Jeremy Barrow were among the first to arrive — as usual. They pulled into the Gulch parking lot next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 8 a.m. to claim their favorite spot under the bridge. That was prime real estate because the bridge helped block the rain.

They set up their elaborate tent structure — equipped with a fire pit and decorated with signs and soccer scarves — to count down the hours before Atlanta United played the Portland Timbers for the MLS Cup 2018.

Yessa, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, and Barrow, an Atlantan, didn’t even know each other before Atlanta United. They met vying for a tailgating spot when the soccer team had just arrived in Atlanta and played at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Now, the two fans and their families are good friends and they have joined forces with a combined tailgate before every game.

Justin Nelson and Bobby Cartwright hang out at the Gulch to tailgate before Atlanta United's game on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (Photo: Carrie Teegardin/AJC)

Like many of the hardcore fans who gathered on Saturday, these United fanatics said the soccer team had actually enriched their lives with new friends and a new sports obsession that has yet to let them down.

“I have more friends here in Atlanta than I do in Nashville,” Yessa said.

The weather didn’t even phase this tailgate crew — their setup was warm and dry, and they welcomed their tailgate neighbors in like family as they prepared for Atlanta to claim the championship.

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Richard Starr arrived not long after to claim a spot nearby, also shielded from the rain. His tailgate crew had a full bar set up. They had cooked pork belly for breakfast and had Jell-O shots and sweet potato salad on the side. They were preparing to grill some pregame steaks as they awaited game time in the celebratory atmosphere of the Gulch.

“I’m just so happy we’re here,” said Starr, who is also a Manchester United fan, but doesn’t mind missing his English team play when it’s tailgate time for United.

Soccer fans were cooking everything from grilled cheese to a whole hog at the tailgating on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at the Gulch, where enthusiastic Atlanta United supporters gathered for hours before game time in spite of the rainy conditions. (Photo: Carrie Teegardin/AJC)

At the Faction’s tailgate, Jon Jaffin was tending to a whole hog that he had been smoking all night. The family-friendly fan group brought in large tents for its pregame party. Kevin Kinley said the tents would keep everyone dry as the fans prepared for what he expected to be the biggest moment yet in United’s short but remarkable history in Atlanta.

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Alek Pike is part of the Resurgence club of Atlanta United fans. He and his friends crowded under a tent as grilled cheese sandwiches were coming off the grill. Pike said the team, for him, is about home and friends who have all come together — no matter what their backgrounds — to unite around the Atlanta soccer team. “This is a place I can come and be with people who care about our city,” he said.

He said a lot of his social time is these days spent with friends from Resurgence, even during the offseason.

“From 2017 until now, this has completely changed my life,” Pike said.

The fans in his tailgate tent said the weather was a good omen. Atlanta United, they said, usually wins when the tailgating happens in the rain.

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