Atlanta introduced as MLS' 22nd team
With the number of slots for MLS expansion teams dwindling, Arthur Blank and the city of Atlanta have made official their commitment to become the league's 22nd team.
Blank, the team's owner, and MLS commissioner Don Garber made the announcement on Wednesday in front of an enthusiastic crowd at a downtown Atlanta establishment, a group that included the team's supporters group, the Terminus Legion.
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia World Congress Center authority Frank Pope and CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb were also in attendance.
The team, which is still without an official name, will begin play in 2017.
"[Atlanta] is an internationally connected city and has a passionate group of folks like we have here," Garber said at the announcement. "We have all of that, and we have more here in the city of Atlanta. This will be big, you guys will proud. MLS will be very successful in this city."
Bringing Atlanta into the MLS fold marks the league's latest step into expanding into the southeastern corner of the United States. Orlando's entry into the league was made official last November, while Miami's effort -- led by David Beckham and one that is contingent on a stadium being built -- is also expected to be part of that push.
If Miami is successful, that will bring the total number of clubs to 23, leaving just one spot left to reach Garber's long-espoused target of 24 teams.
"This is an exciting day for Atlanta, and for our city, state, and region," said Blank at the event. "We've been working on soccer for over 10 years now. ... It's been a dream of ours."
Blank, who is also the owner of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, insisted that he would strive to create a club that stays true to soccer's culture and unique fan base, and that the fans would have significant input as to the team's name and logo.
"This franchise will be owned by the fans," said Blank. "We will do everything we can to focus on the fans, to make sure we create the right atmosphere, to make sure that technically we have the best players, the best coaches. ... I promise you whatever resources it's going to take to give us a winning tradition, both on the field and off the field, you have that commitment from me."
Blank and Garber both confirmed that the team will play its games in a new state-of-the-art facility set to open in 2017. The stadium will host both the Falcons and the MLS team, and will use what is being called state-of-the-art downsizing technology to make sure that a more intimate environment will be created for soccer games.
"This will be one of the great stadiums in our country," said Garber. "Having seen the plans, we think it will be one of the great stadiums in the world.
Blank highlighted how the upper bowl and mezzanine levels will be draped, while the lower bowl seats will retract to make the field wider. This will create a lowered capacity of 29,322, and Blank also said that he would ensure that a true soccer atmosphere is created at the stadium.
"We'll make sure that there is never an MLS game where NFL lines are shown on the field," said Blank.