Arthur Blank’s new stadium has caused quite the stir around the city and in the sports world.
Under threat that the Atlanta Falcons may move to the West Coast, the city of Atlanta decided to chip in some funding – about $200 million – to accommodate Blank’s desire for an open-air stadium to re-modernize the Georgia Dome, built in 1992. But the stadium isn’t just for football, at least not just the American kind of football.
Besides, residents of Atlanta and the surrounding areas didn’t really need to worry about their beloved Falcons taking their U-Haul to L.A. In the long run, it’s the Dome’s potential newcomers – the North American Soccer League’s Atlanta Silverbacks, currently next to the intersection of I-85 and I-285 about 20 minutes south via Ga. 400 from Haynes Bridge – that should pique interest from the metro area.
The franchise was founded in 1995, and was originally known as the Atlanta Ruckus until Boris Jerkunica took over in 1998. He renamed the team the Silverbacks after the famous gorilla Willie B, who lived in the Atlanta Zoo for 39 years.
The team ceased to exist from 2009-11 after leaving the United Soccer League to help form the NASL. The league wasn’t sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation until 2011, and the Silverbacks immediately joined the league.
It didn’t start well. They finished last in their first season, losing 20 games and averaging 2,285 fans in their 5,000 seat stadium.
But things took a turn in the right direction midway through the season in 2012. Though they finished in seventh place, missing the playoffs again (only the top six teams make the cut), they lost just three of their final 12 games. The Silverbacks found their footing under interim coach Eric Wynalda, and their attendance nearly doubled to 4,505.
On the evening of April 13, they took another step, kicking their season off against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. They won in dramatic fashion, scoring twice after the 85th minute to win 2-0 in front of 5,402 fans.
The pieces all fit together for Atlanta’s only soccer team to earn pseudo-promotion to MLS, and it would be entirely appropriate for the man who scored Major League Soccer’s first goal – Wynalda, the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer until 2008, who currently serves as the team’s technical director – to bring them there.
The Silverbacks will need more space in the near future for parking, crowds and concessions. Arthur Blank is looking for a team to put in his new vacation home, and MLS has indicated strong interest in bringing a team to the only top-10 market in the U.S. without a franchise.
Plus, it helps that the team is starting to do well.
“We expect a great season, especially with the way we finished last season,” said midfielder Borfor Carr after the win.
Expectations are one thing. Accomplishments are another. So far, the Silverbacks are one for one on the season.
“We accomplished [our first goal] tonight, win the first game,” said coach Brian Haynes after celebrating with the fans following the final whistle.
Their next goal is to beat the defending champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, maintaining their approach of taking things one game at a time. But the Silverbacks also have bigger goals in mind.
“We keep it quiet, but I gave them a reminder before the game. ‘Hey, you guys were saying last year, if we had more games, we’d have gone further,’” said Haynes. “Well we have the entire season, and this is the best way to start.”
It certainly is. And when Arthur Blank builds his new stadium, we’ll find out what exactly their victory was the start of.