Record-breaking crowd in Atlanta provides benchmark for MLS

Arthur Blank leads the Atlanta fans, hammers golden spike - Atlanta United

USA Today Sports

ATLANTA — Atlanta United set a new standard for attendance for MLS on Saturday night when they welcomed a single-game MLS record 70,425 fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

And the team’s also setting a new standard for the league as a whole, according to several veteran MLS players, managers and executives. Following the match, they spoke about what the record-setting afternoon meant for the league’s progress since its inception in 1996, and the potential for taking MLS to even greater heights.

“It was spectacular, what an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Orlando City SC manager Jason Kreis after the match. “It’s always a pleasure to be a part of games like that.”

Kreis, who’s been a part of MLS as a player or manager from the start, saw the day as another high-point for professional soccer in the U.S.

“To have a crowd here tonight like we did, another benchmark to say, ‘This is what the league can be,’ I am really pleased to have been part of it,” he said.

“I think it means the league is growing,” said Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who is now on his second stint in MLS after leaving the league for England in 2008. “It means soccer down here is definitely huge and popular which is good for us.”

Atlanta United has welcomed 577,917 fans to date, which already tops the expansion team record set by Orlando City in 2015 with five home matches remaining. Going into Saturday’s match, Atlanta was already averaging around 46,000 fans at home, putting them well on the way to topping Seattle’s 2015 average attendance record of 44,247, and within striking distance of the U.S. pro soccer mark of 47,856 set by the 1978 NASL New York Cosmos.

“It’s a very exciting day for me and the league,” said Don Garber, who’s now serving in his eighteenth year as MLS Commissioner and was there in person to the Atlanta faithful for himself.

“We’ve been in the soccer business a long time and we’re continuing to have experiences like this that are defying everybody’s expectations,” he said. “This is the beginning of even greater things to happen in our league.”

Beyond the larger significance of the future of MLS, Atlanta’s veteran captain Michael Parkhurst emphasized the mental boost the home crowd’s passion provides for his team.

“We really needed it tonight, the third game in six days, where the energy was not as high as maybe the other games and needing to come back three different times,” said Parkhurst. “The crowd pushed us. At the end there, it was so loud you couldn’t hear anything. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the winner there but the crowd was amazing. It was a fun and amazing thing to be a part of.”

Chris McCann felt the same way. Although McCann’s an MLS newcomer, he’s played in dozens of stadiums during his long career in England’s professional divisions. 

“It’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of,” said McCann. “When the board lit up for the last couple of minutes, the roof nearly lifted off the place. It was incredible and a great atmosphere throughout the whole day. They nearly got us over the line in the end.”

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