Just look around Bobby Dodd Stadium on any given match day for Atlanta United FC, and you’ll see the city is abuzz with a soccer craze.
Waving white towels, giant showy banners, rhythmic clapping in unison and the pounding of drums echo throughout the venue. Every few moments you hear the chants from one end of the stadium to the rest — “At-lant-a!...U-ni-ted!” — that practically send chills down your spine.
Then cue the crescendo of roaring cheers with every goal scored that blanket the stadium and the players. The 40-plus-thousand patrons that come from all around, some well outside the city’s perimeter, remain on their feet, fervently jumping and chanting together despite the elements — whether it be high humidity, the scorching summer sun, or even in the pouring rain.
And the shocking part of it all? This is a recurring theme for every home match.
“It has been incredible to go in — I’ve been to football games at Bobby Dodd for the Georgia Tech games — to see that stadium with 45,000 people,” said Bryan Clark, a 2013 North Hall graduate and devoted Atlanta United fan. “I’ve obviously never seen it at a Georgia Tech game.”
It appears Atlanta United, the newest and hottest Major League Soccer expansion team, is here to stay.
“Nothing compares to what Atlanta has going on," said Jesse Mendoza, Gainesville resident and co-founder of Resurgence, one of the four recognized supporters groups for the club. "The people are loud, rowdy and passionate about Atlanta United. I recommend anyone who hasn’t seen a game to buy a ticket and see what all the hype is about."
Beyond that, the authentic experience it brings to spectators has accentuated the soccer community nicely.
“It has been just like family going down there, especially in these times where there has been so much difference and arguing and hatred in the world,” Clark said. “Everything’s just put on pause when you’re down there.”
The club’s exciting, attacking brand of soccer headed by now household names like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almirón appears to have the MLS back on the map in the southeast.
But the buzz really started well before a ball was even kicked.
The 30,000-plus season tickets sold shattered the MLS record for any expansion team, well before Atlanta United even set foot in Bobby Dodd or Mercedes Benz Stadium.
“That resonates big for Georgia,” added Mendoza. “That’s a lot of people who blindly followed Atlanta United before they even got their players.”
Mendoza, who is also a school teacher for the Gainesville Exploration Academy and sometimes coaches soccer, has noticed a rise in popularity for the MLS as opposed to the English Premier League among younger students.
“I had talked to the kids that I coach, and they are all trying to go to (an Atlanta United) game eventually. It’s been interesting to finally see the local kids finally start paying attention to the MLS,” Mendoza said. “Before all the kids would talk about Real Madrid, Arsenal, big names...I fully expect some Atlanta United shirts when I get back to work in August.”
Mendoza, 27, was instrumental in forming the group partially responsible for sustaining the in-game excitement each week at Bobby Dodd. And his crew is not hard to find during games.
The hundreds of boisterous fans standing behind the north endzone at Bobby Dodd make up Resurgence. The fan groups for Atlanta United — Footie Mob, Terminus Legion and the Faction — all have a purpose to bring exposure and character to their club, though the 500-member Resurgence is the rowdiest and youngest of the bunch, said Mendoza.
This group prides itself on creating a passionate in-match atmosphere, standing and chanting and beating drums for “the full-90,” the length in minutes of a regulation soccer match. Their creative tifos (choreographed displays in which fans in a sports stadium raise a large banner together or simultaneously) even add to the atmosphere.
“I would probably say it’s in part to our demographic of around college student to young adults in our group that kind of adds to that aspect of what we wanted to bring to Atlanta United,” Mendonza said.
Mendoza, among the 12 original partners of Resurgence, is the only one who resides outside Atlanta’s city perimeter in Gainesville. He came to meet his fellow founding partners through supporting the Atlanta Silverbacks and drumming for various games alongside the American Outlaws, the national support group for the U.S. men’s national team.
The group's spurt from 12 to 500 members in less than two years is a testament to the sports continued growth in Georgia.
Clark, a 23-year-old who has been a member of Resurgence for seven months, first met Mendoza for a gathering at the Tabernacle in Atlanta and joined in on the action soon after. In addition to becoming a season ticket holder, it made sense for Clark to join the one group a kid from Gainesville helped build.
“Those guys have especially turned into family,” Clark said of his fellow Resurgence members. “I go down there to stay with them each week, because they know it’s a good drive back to Gainesville. Friends turn to family very quickly in Resurgence.”
Atlanta so far has managed to sell out all eight home matches this season. It currently leads the MLS in attendance with an average of 46,482 people per match, and the turnout of 55,297 for its inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls on March 5 was the fourth-largest attendance of any soccer game in the world — joining Manchester United, Barcelona-Celta Vigo (Spain) and Borussia Dortmund-Bayer Leverkusen (Germany).
But can this buzz be sustained?
“Absolutely,” Clark said. “With all the transplants in Atlanta, all the different nationalities and everything, obviously soccer is huge in every country besides the U.S. It just hasn’t wavered yet, even all the games in the rain has been sold out...It just has no signs of slowing down.”
Atlanta (9-7-3) returns to action on July 21 when they play Orlando City SC in Orlando.