Atlanta got another taste on Saturday of what it might be like to host a 2026 World Cup soccer game because Mexico and Honduras played an international friendly at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that provided a one-night only preview.

The noise was deafening, a thunderous, consistent deluge of decibels only equaled a few times by Atlanta United’s rabid supporters, which also call the $1.6 billion stadium home. When Mexico’s supporters grew annoyed with Honduras’ tactics, whistles and boos echoed around the stadium. When Mexico controlled the ball, “Ole” was the answer to many completed passes. A singular person with a horn kept time with whatever song was in his head. And, of course, there were a few waves.

The colors were hypnotic. Mexico’s supporters wore their green, white and red, or purple and black. Honduras’ supporters wore their white and blue. Some supporters showed their allegiance to their club teams by wearing the red and black of Atlanta United, or yellow and blue of Club America, or red, white and blue of Chivas, to name a few of the handful of kits repped. Some wore sombreros. Some wore flags. Some wore sparkly masks.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Of significance was the importance of the announced attendance: 70,072. It is believed to be the largest announced crowd for a soccer game since the start of the pandemic. Though it is the highest-attended game for Mexico in its eighth event in the city, to show Atlanta’s passion for soccer, Saturday’s total doesn’t crack the top 10 for largest attendances for soccer games in the city’s history, which includes hosting several international friendlies, most involving Mexico. Atlanta also hosted a Gold Cup semifinal in 2016 at the Georgia Dome.

Of more significance, people seemed happy. Truly happy. When people were broadcast on the 58-foot tall halo board, the joy was evident. Big smiles. Never-ending waves. It was as if it was a brand new experience and unique technology. In the 55th minute, many held up their cell phones with the flashlights turned on, creating a starry night effect in the closed stadium.

It was almost everything a World Cup game is supposed to bring to a city.

Atlanta is bidding to host a semifinal game of the World Cup in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It is one of 17 U.S. cities bidding to be one of the 10 hosts for the tournament. FIFA is expected to announce its selections by the end of the year.

“I would be delighted,” said Gerardo Martino, Mexico’s manager, and Atlanta United’s former manager. “It’s a city that always made me happy. I wish the city the very best in their efforts.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The game, which ended 0-0, featured a few memorable moments: Mexico’s goalkeeper blocking a shot with his face. A volleyed shot off the crossbar. A Mexican player doing a somersault after being tackled by Honduras’ goalkeeper. There was even an interloper, who made it from the stands and onto the field, draped in a flag, before he was tackled by a security guard and quickly escorted away.

Finally, there was a header missed wide by Mexico’s Uriel Antuna in final moments after an El Tri player finally got behind Honduras’ stout back line.

It wasn’t all smiles and chants. Traffic outside the stadium was congested. Lanes, traffic lights and turn signals were more like suggestions than regulations. Going down Northside Drive, which typically takes a few minutes, could take more than 20 minutes.

But on the whole it was a fun night and a glimpse into a possible future.

Imagine if it were being played for a berth in a World Cup final.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Unofficial largest soccer crowds in Atlanta history

1. Atlanta United in MLS Cup, 2018, 73,019

2. Atlanta United vs. L.A. Galaxy, 2019, 72,548

3. MLS All-Star Game, 2018, 72,317

4. Atlanta United vs. Seattle, 2018, 72,243

5. Atlanta United vs. D.C. United, 2018, 72,035

6. Atlanta United vs. Real Salt Lake, 2018, 72,017

7. Atlanta United vs. Orlando, 2018, 71,932

8. Atlanta United vs. Toronto, 2017, 71,874

9. Atlanta United vs. Chicago, 2018, 71,812

10. Atlanta United vs. NYCFC in playoffs, 2018, 70,526


Mexico’s history playing games in Atlanta:

  • It defeated Venezuela 4-0, with more than 51,000 tickets sold or distributed in 2009.
  • It defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0, with more than 50,000 tickets sold or distributed in 2011.
  • It defeated Trinidad and Tobago 1-0, with more than 54,000 tickets sold or distributed in the 2013 Gold Cup.
  • It tied Nigeria 0-0, with an Atlanta record of 68,212 tickets sold or distributed in 2014.
  • Mexico broke that record in 2015 with 70,511 tickets sold or distributed for a 2-1 win over Panama in the semifinals of the Gold Cup. That game was a doubleheader with the Americans losing to Jamaica 2-1 in the other semifinal;
  • In 2016, it defeated Paraguay 2-0 in an exhibition, with 63,049 tickets sold and distributed.
  • In 2019, it defeated Venezuela 3-1 in an exhibition, with 51,834 tickets sold and distributed.
  • In 2021, it drew 0-0 with Honduras, with 70,072 tickets sold and distributed.

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