It is 120 miles to Chattanooga, Tennessee from Atlanta.
Tickets to Atlanta United’s first match were $15 per ticket to sit anywhere and enjoy a game with a great view of the Appalachian Mountains.
More than 12,000 people showed up, mostly in red and black.
You can assign numbers to a lot of things, but it is hard to put number values to the first moments Atlanta United gave its fans.
Atlanta United took the field against someone other than themselves and gave the fans a show to behold. Despite rough moments where the chemistry was clearly still developing, there were still moments of brilliance to please the supporters.
Atlanta has been something of a cocoon leading up to the season. We know what the team could become, but aside from the occasional wiggle in training camp, observers have had to just wait on their hands.
Saturday gave manager Tata Martino a chance to show off an unfinished product. The transformation isn’t finished but fans saw the cracks start to form in the cocoon, and in the right light you could see what was waiting to emerge and greet the league.
Miguel Almirón looked every part of the attacking anchor for Martino’s system, delivering passes all over the midfield and starting the counter that led to United’s first ever goal. Almirón spent parts of the first half absorbing hard fouls that only seemed to galvanize the Atlanta United players.
Titio Villalba caused over 12,000 people to gasp in awe as he drag-raced two defenders to a ball that only failed to produce thanks to a professional foul. He then finished the first goal in United’s history after a counter attack that has the potential to force North America to rethink how it attacks set pieces.
The occasionally-questioned Yamil Asad gave fans reason to hope with a strike right out of FIFA 17. A show of the potential the young winger possesses but has struggled to successfully harness.
Whatever emerges for Martino’s squad on March 5th, it will be unlike anything the league has ever seen from an expansion side. As shaky as United may have looked in the first moments, a settled squad was twice as exciting to watch for the remaining 80 minutes, even when the subs had entered and the match all but decided. In fact, the subs may have provided as much hope as they did excitement.
Martino’s side changed shirts after the half and set a slew of young and explosive players loose on a NPSL side that — while out of its element playing this early in the season with a conditioning disadvantage — has won its division five years running.
Andrew Carleton showed poise no minor should have, the draft picks Robinson and Gressel rewarded their new manager with quality minutes and veterans fighting for starting spots stated strong cases throughout the match that they belong in the starting 11. (Georgia-natives Mark Bloom and Carleton worked well with Gressel and spent the better part of the second half absolutely goring Chattanooga down the right side.)
Atlanta is less than a month away from the real fights for real points and after 90 minutes fans are certainly allowed to be excited and dream big. Many had high hopes but were probably unsure what was going to pop out of that preseason cocoon but right now it looks more like Mothra than anything else.
An hour and a half from home, the lights are out in Chattanooga and the sun is set on the day but make no mistake about it Atlanta: Your team is here.