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Eales: Atlanta was ‘desperate for a championship that we’ve delivered’

Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank and his wife, Angie, toss souvenir soccer balls to the parade crowd lining Baker Street Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, in Atlanta.
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank and his wife, Angie, toss souvenir soccer balls to the parade crowd lining Baker Street Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, in Atlanta.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

After Atlanta United captured the MLS Cup on Saturday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught up with several members of the franchise and dignitaries that attended the championship parade on Monday.

Here’s what they had to say:

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan

Q. Was there one specific moment that happened along the parade route that’s going to stick with you?

A. "Not really, but all the smiling faces, all the excitement. People throwing jerseys, hats, scarves, trying to get things signed, trying to get pictures. I think my cheeks will be sore from smiling so much but it's a good hurt. We'll take it. Like I said, we couldn't be any more thankful for this city, for fan support for this club."

Q. Has your perception of the MLS Cup changed over the past 36 hours? Has it really sunk in yet?

A. "No, I don't think it's sunk in yet. It's something I think in a week's time, two weeks' time, we'll look back and say we were able to do something pretty special. But at the moment, you just try to enjoy every moment of it. All the craziness, all the chaos it's all part of it and we're all enjoying it."

Q. This is the last time this group will be together. What does the future hold for this team?

A. "It's exciting. The work that we put in for the last two years allows us to move forward with a positive outlook. Going into next year, obviously we need to find a manager at some point, but for the most part like I said, it's about building on what we've already been able to establish and that's going to be a huge part of it."

Q. Is the team ready to have a target on its back next season? That’s usually the next step for a championship team — to be the one everyone hunts.

A. "I think we've already had that target on our back. If you look at this building behind us (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), when teams come to Atlanta, they know what they're in for. They're playing in for the biggest crowd of the season. They're in for the best atmosphere and probably the toughest game they're going to (play) all year. Every time we step on the field we have to be able to produce the goods. We've been able to do that this year and next year we'll look to do the same."

Owner Arthur Blank

Q. There are so many young people in Atlanta that either weren’t born or were too young to remember the last time Atlanta won a championship. What does this win mean and for them?

A. "Well, I think it's just a reminder that Atlanta is not just a great city, which we all know, but it's a championship city. I have a great confidence that the other organizations here, I feel sure the Braves, the Hawks and the Falcons and our team Atlanta United will be back again. I think we've broken whatever curse there was. It's gone. And we're proud to be part of that process as well."

Q. What are your thoughts on the relationship you have with Atlanta United fans? They call you “Uncle Arthur.”

A. "I love them all, I really do. I truly mean that. They are just exceptional. Their energy, their passion, their knowledge of the sport and their enthusiasm has made such a difference to the city and to our players. The players will tell you, when they're playing in front of 50,000 to 70,000 folks in a match, they feel it. It makes a difference to them. It makes a difference in the way they perform."

Q. How are you going to try to keep the atmosphere and success the team has created as other MLS teams are going to try to mimic the success you’ve had?

A. "This is the beauty of this league and the beauty of the NFL is that outside of when we compete is that we have (relationships) with the other owners, and we have welcomed them to Atlanta. We've set all kinds of attendance records. All kinds of fan experience records — No. 1 in the MLS, No. 1 in the NFL — we want to share that with others because we believe that kind of energy belongs in other cities as well. It's one of the great stories in soccer I think in North America is that this kind of success is available to other great cities too."

Q. What are your thoughts on the team that you’ve assembled and their success already? What are they going to be able to do in years ahead they have new challenges with new players and a new coach?

A. "That puzzle is every year in professional sports and the great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that and what we've built here is a sustainability winning organization. We're looking forward to being back, not just competing but being back on the stage a year from now on another beautiful sunny day."

Q. Do you have an idea of who will replace Tata Martino?

A. "I will leave that to Darren (Eales) and Carlos (Bocanegra) and our coaching staff to speak to that. We plan on keeping the team very competitive forever. That's the nature of soccer, it's a global sport so sometimes you're going to lose great players and coaching staff to elsewhere and it's up to us to replace them."

President Darren Eales

Q. During moments like this, do you finally have an opportunity to sit back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished before next season begins?

A. "Yeah, I mean actually today something I'll always remember because I got to be there with my family. It's been four years, about three months of planning, not a lot of time to actually get to winning that cup so it was just brilliant to see the number of fans who turned out. Just have to say a big thank you to Arthur Blank and the players and the coaching staff and what they've done to bring the city a championship. But ultimately, it was about the fans. The fans of the Atlanta United are just unbelievable."

Q. Were you able to have a grasp on how long fans in Atlanta have been waiting for a championship?

A. "For the last week, I couldn't walk anywhere down the street without someone telling me of the Atlanta sporting curse so I was pretty well aware of that. For us it was great to be able to break that curse and you saw today with the crowds that came out. The city was desperate for a celebration and desperate for a championship that we've delivered. And our task is to keep delivering. We want to be one of those clubs that's right up there year in and year out and we got Champions League as well next year so bring on the world."

Q. Argentinian midfielder Pity Martinez said last night he will be coming to Atlanta next season. Do you have a comment on that?

A. "I saw that. People keep talking about Pity Martinez and he mentioned it himself. No, I mean look, we've certainly got some irons in the fire and we're always looking to improve the squad so that something will continue to do and when there is something official we'll announce it."

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms

Q. What is this championship experience like for you?

A. "This energy is absolutely amazing. Looking out on the stage, most of these players weren't even born the last time the city had a championship team so it's incredible. The weather is awful but that tells you how excited we all are and just so very proud of this team."

Q. What is this championship mean for the city of Atlanta?

A. "It has been a while, but that tells you that we've been waiting literally for decades for this. To have so many people come out and it's really cold and wet weather, I think it speaks to the excitement that Atlanta United has brought to our city and across the nation. I mean, we're breaking attendance records right here on the West side of Atlanta so it's been great to celebrate."

Q. How exciting has winning a championship been for you in your first year in office?

A. "Well, I was a lot younger the last time we had a championship team in the city, but to see how the city responded and to see the energy. I know there are so many people like me who don't think about soccer but I was just excited about Atlanta United and now we're breaking attendance records and there's even a 16-year old on the team so he clearly wasn't even born the last time we had a championship team in the city. So it's great. You're all here and can feel the energy."

Q. Arthur Blank spoke of the inclusion soccer brought to the community. What are your thoughts on that?

A. "It's absolutely incredible when you look at the crowd at an Atlanta United game. And I would venture to say that you probably don't see the diversity that you see reflected in our city, but so many people are so excited about the energy of this team and just happy to be a part of it and to have a championship in just a couple short years is nothing short of incredible so I know there are many more to come."

Q. What lesson do you think is learned from this championship and what does it say to the city?

A. "Dream big. We can't limit ourselves. Mr. Blank said it himself. We can't limit ourselves and with so many people across the nation our building stadiums that will seat 20,000 people, we have one that seats over 70,000 and we are filling it up and breaking attendance records. And then to see the number of kids that are now interested in soccer because we have a winning team in the city, really is what it's all about."