They say everyone loves a parade, and barely a week removed from the city’s annual Christmas parade, Santa Claus is returning in the form of the Atlanta United.
Yes, the soccer team that was barely a gleam in Arthur Blank’s eye two years ago will take to downtown’s streets Monday at 10 a.m in celebration of winning its first championship and just the second major championship for the city of Atlanta after about half a century of trying.
The celebration caravan will start at the corner of Peachtree and Baker streets. Here’s the rest of the route:
— west on Baker street past the Georgia Aquarium and Centennial Olympic Park
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— south on Marietta street
— west on Andrew Young International Boulevard
— ending at the Home Depot Backyard, next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Pep rally ceremonies there are supposed to start at noon. The proceedings are expected to include the team, Gov. Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Blank, who no doubt finds his soccer team as a welcome respite to his other team, the Falcons, who have swirled around the drain all season.
All these proceedings will take place in 39 degree temps and a small chance of rain, so bring your Atlanta United scarfs and slickers along with your United banners.
Commuters into downtown should be prepared for slow going for the start of their work week with road closures and crowds forming for the festivities.
Atlanta police Deputy Chief Scott Kreher said officers will start closing down streets on the parade route around 9 a.m. until about noon and said extra officers, including SWAT and canine units, will be positioned along the way.
People attending the ceremonies near the stadium should arrive early, Kreher advised. The grounds accommodate about 15,000 fans and will be closed off after that.
Those entering will have bags checked and go through metal detectors.
Although games for the 2-year-old United drew about 70,000 rabid fans, the cold, the rain and the quick turnaround for the Monday morning parade could keep the crowds down. It will almost certainly fall well below the 750,000 fans who packed the streets after the miracle season of the 1991 Braves and the 500,000 fans celebrating the 1995 World Series champs.
Asked for a crowd prediction, Kreher laughed and said, “We, we really don’t have a clue. This is all new to us.”
Officials are urging people to ride MARTA downtown. MARTA is running its normal scedule and will have extra officers and agents at its Peachtree Center and Dome stations. Some buses will be rerouted because of the parade.
“Knowing this crowd, they are all avid riders of MARTA,” said Kreher of the team’s fans. The mass transit-savvy crowds are both urban and urbane.
Team Blank did well to create a buzz around the team from the start.
“He’s created European-style fandom,” said Furman Smith, a lawyer who celebrated his 80th birthday with a party at a United game. He said a distant relative from England went to a game with him and “was impressed with how it had been set up and marketed.”
Smith, who still plays soccer on weekends, has Atlanta United stickers and flags affixed to his car and a team scarf.
Also, he added, “winning doesn’t hurt at all. Atlanta is so anxious to see anyone win, they’ll pour out all their enthusiasm.”
Between the Braves, the Falcons, the Hawks and two come-and-gone hockey teams, Atlanta has accumulated some 175 seasons with only one championship, the ‘95 Braves.
That means, until now, the odds of an Atlanta team winning a championship is about one-half of a percent in any given year.
Sure, a Major League Soccer (MLS) championship may not be equal to winning the Super Bowl or a World Series, but it’s a fairly big moment, nonetheless, for Atlanta and United fans.
Tim Saviello is a former resident of the Grant Park neighborhood who bought season tickets last year because he was a soccer fan and because the Braves’ departure from the city to Cobb County left him with a bad taste.
“The idea of having a team we could support downtown was part of” why he jumped on board, said Saviello, who moved last year to Macon but still attends games.
“It feels like a real urban experience,”said Saviello, 51. He said he thinks millennials like the team “because it makes them feel a little more European, a little more worldly.”
All for the price of an Atlanta soccer ticket.