And then COVID-19 swept through the world, forcing teams to play in front of no crowds, and then smaller crowds.
It could be argued that the lack of attendance may have negatively affected Atlanta United more than any team in professional sports in North America.
Since that game against Cincinnati, playing in mostly empty stadiums, Atlanta United has won five of its past 25 matches and has a record of 5-14-6. It is averaging less than a goal per game after scoring 1.90 per match in its first 113 MLS matches, including the playoffs.
If there ever was a team that needs a crowd to get going, Atlanta United might be it.
“All the guys are definitely super up for it,” centerback Miles Robinson said Wednesday. “Hopefully we will play well in front of our fans.”
Atlanta United’s crowds are different than most in MLS because the stadium is bigger than most. The team holds league attendance records for the 10 most attended games, with last year’s against Cincinnati coming in at No. 10, as well as for the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup. Its record at home is 39-11-12, and that includes going 3-4-2 last year after the MLS is Back tournament.
Atlanta United played its first home league game this season against Chicago on April 24 with an announced attendance of 20,335. The team announced in late April that it was opening the stadium to full capacity for the remainder of the season. Saturday’s against Montreal will have a capacity of 42,500. The team is scheduled to open the stadium to its entire capacity of more than 70,000 at least two times, July 24 against Columbus and Aug. 15 against LAFC.
Midfielder Franco Ibarra said Saturday’s crowd, small by Atlanta United’s normal standards, will be the biggest he’s ever played in front of.
“I think it’s a great thing because playing in front of a crowd gives you a different feeling as a player,” he said.
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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule
April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0
April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1
May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1
May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1, 1 p.m., ABC
May 15 vs. Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 23 at Seattle, 4:30 p.m., Fox
May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN
June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE
June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN
July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1
July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC
July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN
Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, B7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE