September 16, 2017 Atlanta - Atlanta United fans cheer in the first half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta United players happy for big crowd at home opener

Atlanta United’s players are excited to play their home opener against D.C. United on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for several reasons, one of which is last week’s 4-0 defeat at Houston.

“The way the fans supported us throughout the year was incredible and I think for everyone it’s very exciting to go back into Mercedes-Benz stadium and show them that we are better than what happened last weekend,” midfielder Kevin Kratz said.

Sunday’s first home game will see the stadium open to full capacity. It is one of four times this season the upper deck will be open, which expands capacity from 42,500 (the official sell-out number) to more than 70,000. The team said the four dates (June 30 vs. Orlando, July 15 vs. Seattle and Sept. 22 vs. Real Salt Lake) were selected “based on a criteria of celebrating key moments and spreading opportunities for fans to attend throughout the season.”

The team opened the upper deck three times last season, with the team announcing at least 67,221 tickets sold or distributed for each game. 

Sunday’s game is also expected to be sold out.

“We miss that atmosphere,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It’s such an awesome thing to play in front of. It’s amazing. It’s just really an energy boost. You can feel the passion. You can feel the love. 

“We need them this weekend to push us and hopefully we can give them a lot to cheer for.”

Last season, playing eight games at Bobby Dodd Stadium and nine at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United set numerous league attendance records:

  • Average attendance (48,200), breaking the previous mark set by Seattle (44,247 in 2015);
  • Total attendance (819,400), breaking the previous mark set by Seattle (752,199 in 2015);
  • Single-game attendance (71,874), breaking the mark of 70,425 it set earlier in the season;
  • Single-game playoff (67,221).

Helped by that support, Atlanta United went 11-3-3 at home and 4-6-7 on the road in its inaugural season.

The team’s average attendance was 25th-largest for clubs around the world playing their 2016-17 seasons, according to the club. The team out-paced such clubs as Juventus (39,489), A.C. Milan (40,294), Chelsea (41,508), Atletico Madrid (44,719) and Paris St. Germain (45,317).

“It’s always important to play in front of our home fans,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “The way they’ve been last year and the way they will probably be this year, it helps a tremendous amount.

“It intimidates other teams. it just helps us and gives us a push when we need it and pushes us further than we think we can go.”

Led by the capo who directs the chants, the stadium can be a cauldron of noise on game days. The team said a tifo created by the supporters groups inspired the look of its away kit this season.

The supporters typically stand for the entire game, something that team owner Arthur Blank said on Monday was  impressive. 

“The enthusiasm and commitment of our fanbase, coming to every match the way they did and in droves, regardless of the weather when we played at Bobby Dodd, the noise, the excitement, the passion, the energy, the fervor, and to see them standing for an hour-and-a-half without exception and without exception to age, it was really remarkable,” he said.

“It was a great tribute to Atlanta and its fans.”