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MLS Expands To Atlanta – Why?

atlanta-2017On Wednesday, Major League Soccer announced that Atlanta will be the league’s 22nd team. The expansion team, which will begin play in the 2017 season, will be owned by Atlanta Falcons owner
Arthur Blank.

The team will play in new state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium in downtown Atlanta that will have will a 29,000 capacity.

“We are thrilled to welcome Atlanta to Major League Soccer as our 22nd team,” Garber said in a statement. “Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture.

“And with Arthur Blank joining our ownership group, we are adding one of the most respected owners in professional sports. Arthur is deeply passionate about soccer and our quest to become one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world. We look forward to working with him and the entire Falcons organization on achieving this important goal.”

A couple of things worry me about the announcement. One is that the Atlanta team will play in an NFL stadium, on artificial turf. Has MLS not learnt anything from the failed New England Revolution experiment at Gillette Stadium. Even at 29,000 the Atlanta stadium will probably be only half-full, diluting any atmosphere that the fans make.

Atlanta is the third expansion team that MLS has announced, with New York and Orlando joining next season with Miami and Atlanta to come on board in 2017. That is four teams, and 120 roster spots. I am not convinced that there is enough depth and quality in the college ranks, and in NASL, to support another 120 professional player, who can play at the top level. The dilution of talent has to be a worry to MLS.

Third, it is too early to know what sort of financial resources that Arthur Blank will put towards the Atlanta side, but after paying a reportedly $75m expansion fee, I would not expect him to have a Chivas or Columbus size budget. Which potentially causes a problem in MLS as the new teams in New York, Orlando and Miami are very well financed and publicly are committed to signing big name DPs. So will MLS become a two tier league with the free spending Sounders, TFC, NYCFC, Miami, LA Galaxy, Orlando on one side and the Revolution, Columbus, San Jose, Chicago and Chivas on the other side?

What do you think of the MLS expanding to Atlanta?