Atlanta United won’t be the first MLS team forced to open a season either on the road or in another venue because of stadium construction delays.
At least 15 teams have had to make other accommodations since the 1999 season. Despite not having a permanent home at the start of the season, nine of the teams still qualified for the playoffs.
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank said Thursday that the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been pushed from March 2017 until June 1, 2017 because of construction of the retractable roof and video board.
The delays will mean that Atlanta United must play the first three months of its inaugural season, or approximately 13 games across all competitions, on the road or find another temporary home. Blank said the team still expects to host 17 home games either at Mercedes-Benz Stadium or at an unspecified temporary home stadium.
MLS teams have had different results dealing with the delays.
The Chicago Fire opened the 2006 season with a nine road games. It finished with 28 points (3 for a win; one for a tie) from its home games, 47 overall, and made the playoffs.
Dave Sarachan, the coach of the Fire then who now is an assistant with the Los Angeles Galaxy, said starting a season with nine consecutive road games was a challenge. Because the team knew that the schedule would be counter-balanced with lots of home games in the back end, they didn’t dwell on the tough start. They set a goal for the number of points they hoped to achieve at the start and started the task.
“There almost became a road-warrior mentality within the group,” he said.
He acknowledged that it didn’t eventually wear on the team, but there was nothing they could do about it other than to play.
Sporting Kansas City opened the 2011 season with 10 road games. It still finished atop the Eastern Conference with a 9-2-6 home record and 51 points overall.
Sporting didn’t start well, with only six points, including one win, in the 10-game stretch. Some supporters wanted coach Peter Vermes fired. But he said he and his assistants stuck with their plan and kept the players focused with the carrot that when they finally got to play at home they would have a noticeable advantage, so they needed to keep pressing for points.
The worst part of the road games weren’t the breaking of routines, or being forced to play in front of another team’s fans. Sarachan and Vermes said the worst part was not being able to play in front of their own team’s fans.
“A good play, score a goal, they aren’t getting the kind of adulation they would get in their own stadium if they did the same,” Vermes said. “You have to be mentally strong to be able to withstand that many games on the road as a team.”
Expansion clubs affected by delays haven’t been as fortunate.
Toronto moved into its stadium April 28, 2007. It finished with 18 points at home, seven on the road and failed to make the playoffs.
Philadelphia wasn’t able to move into its stadium until June 27, 2010. It finished with 24 points from its home games but just seven from its road games and failed to make the playoffs.
Vancouver moved in Oct. 2, 2011 after playing most of its games in a temporary venue. It finished with 23 points at home, five on the road and failed to make the playoffs.
Montreal moved into its stadium June 16, 2012. It finished with 33 points at home but just nine on the road and failed to make the playoffs.
Vermes said everyone should have patience with teams that must start seasons with multiple consecutive road games. It seems especially true when it’s an expansion team.
“It’s not only fans, but ownership, the club and the community that have to have patience,” Vermes said. “It’s a results-oriented business, but it’s a major challenge being on the road the whole time.
“Team shouldn’t be judged on first three months. They should be judged on how it progresses.”
Ticket prices: Despite the three-month delay in the finishing of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United plans to unveil its season-ticket prices next month and said they won’t be affected by what may be a compressed home schedule.
Team spokeswoman Elena Cizmaric said said the possibility of playing home games in something other than the new stadium will not affect the season-ticket prices because the team’s intent is to play all 17 home games at the new stadium.
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