A mile from where Atlanta United was founded on a beautiful sunny April day 4½ years ago, the franchise celebrated its most historic achievement on a cold, rainy December Monday.
The MLS Cup championship.
Thousands of supporters of the Five Stripes lined a parade route through downtown Atlanta, before marching to meet others at the Home Depot Backyard adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a rally.
As they have done all season in shattering MLS attendance records, and as they did in powering the team to a 2-0 victory over Portland on Saturday to win the league title, the supporters expressed their love with chants, dances, flags and scarves, appropriate with temperatures in the 30s.
“We knew this was a great city. We knew this was a great sports city. Now we know it’s a great championship city,” team owner Arthur Blank said during the first of his two times at the podium.
Club president Darren Eales, sounding more like he’s from Atlanta than Chelmsford, England, had the last laugh first by sarcastically asking, “What curse?” before unexpectedly busting out an Andre 3000 reference: “The South got something to say.”
The crowd erupted when team captain Michael Parkhurst brought the silver cup onto the stage and again held it high over his head, just as he did Saturday night in front of more than 73,000.
“It feels good to be a champion,” he said, though his language was a bit saltier and could be excused because it was his first time winning a title in his fifth attempt.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, speaking in Spanish, caused the crowd to erupt when he said he thinks the team has at least one more title in it.
Anyone involved with Atlanta United could be excused for expressing bravado on Monday.
Not only did the club win a title in just its second year, it did so in dominating fashion. It became the first team in MLS history to score at least 70 goals in back-to-back seasons. It posted one of the great goal-differences in league history for the second consecutive year. It posted three shutouts in five playoff games. Josef Martinez became the first player in league history to be named MVP of the All-Star Game, season and Cup. He and Miguel Almiron are believed to be the first pair of players in more than 20 years to finish 1-2 in MVP voting.
So, when Blank said that the title is going to be the first of many, it’s easier to believe that it won’t be 50 more years between soccer titles from the time the Chiefs won 1968 until Saturday’s championship.
Lastly, the supporters were consistently amazing in breaking the league’s average attendance record (53,002) they set last year, and then breaking the league’s single-game attendance (73,019) record in the Cup. They sent national journalists covering the game home astounded and writing that the environment is what MLS can one day be in more places.
Though it was old hat after seeing the Golden Spike ceremony performed almost 40 times the past two seasons, the crowd still went crazy when manager Gerardo Martino swung the hammer in what may be his final official action before leaving the squad.
“Today, I can’t believe how many people came out,” Eales said. “When the weather’s this miserable, it was incredible and speaks volumes about how amazing the Atlanta fan base is.
“Everyone said this is a poor soccer city and didn’t support its soccer clubs. This is the most amazing city in America. I just love it.”