Major League Soccer (MLS) announced Wednesday that an expansion team will join the soccer league in Atlanta starting the 2017 season. The team will become the 22nd MLS team in the league.
The owner of the Atlanta Falcons NFL football team and co-founder of The Home Depot, Arthur Blank, was awarded the new franchise. The team will share a new stadium with the Falcons when they begin play in three years. The new retractable roof stadium will be located next door to the Falcons current home, the Georgia Dome.
The new MLS team will play on an artificial turf pitch. There has been some debate over artificial surfaces for soccer instead of natural grass. FIFA, the governing body for soccer worldwide, has a star rating system for the artificial surface and it is a likely that the new field will have a high rated field for the team to play on.
While the team is only one day old, the next process will be getting an infrastructure in place. Front office staff, administrative staff and coaching staff will be worked on in the coming weeks and months. As a way to build up a fan base for the new team early on, the club will be asking for team name ideas from the public. The club holding a team naming contest or picking a mascot contest is also a possibility.
The expansion of Major League Soccer in Atlanta is a great move for the league. The city already has a great fan base for professional sports with teams already competing in the big four professional leagues already. The new team owner is planning on over 29,000 fans to attend games when the club starts play in three years.
The city of Atlanta looks to the MLS as a perfect location for an expansion club. Over the last few years the city has hosted international matches in front of crowds nearing 50,000 people. During an international friendly match between Mexico and Nigeria last month over 70,000 soccer fans were in attendance. Those attendance numbers give both the MLS and new club high expectations for the success of the franchise.
While Atlanta will not be on the pitch for a few years, other expansion is happening very soon. Next season New York City FC will join the MLS along with the David Beckham co-owned Orlando City FC will begin play. The MLS is hoping to have 24 teams playing by 2020.
To put a team on the field, after the conclusion of the 2016 season there will be an expansion draft. This draft may only be for the new Atlanta club or could potentially include the 23rd expansion team that is expected to be awarded to Miami soon. The Miami team would join Atlanta in the expansion draft if they are scheduled to start play at the same time in 2017.
Existing MLS teams are allowed to protect 11 players on the roster before the expansion draft. Then the unprotected players are open for the expansion team or teams to pick from. The expansion draft will give Atlanta the core of their new team.
With the announcement of the Major League Soccer expansion to Atlanta, it shows the world that soccer is growing in the United States. While the MLS is still considered a young league, the clubs are beginning to pull in some of the top players in the world. It is a great time to be a soccer fan in America.
Commentary by Carl Auer