Here’s a one question quiz for you:
What’s the only thing that can get over 55,000 screaming fans inside of Historic Bobby Dodd Stadium on a weekend? Give up?
If you said “football season,” guess again. If you said fùtbol season, you’ve won the prize.
Last Sunday, Atlanta’s Bobby Dodd Stadium was rocking with almost 60,000 people as the city of Atlanta welcomed Atlanta United, the city’s first major professional soccer franchise. And in case you were wondering if soccer is really that kind of a “thing” in Atlanta, please know that, yes, it is.
In fact, Atlanta’s Major League Soccer debut was unlike anything I’d ever seen in the three or four years I’ve had the opportunity to frequent Bobby Dodd while covering Georgia Tech football. The place was full to the brim, the field and grounds were impeccable and whether in person or watching on television or some other screen, the electricity and the energy for the moment was unmistakably real.
Okay, so Atlanta United didn’t win its first ever game. The 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls put a slight damper on the big soccer party at Grant Field. But aside from that, the fans who came out to the game communicated a very clear message. That message is that the game of soccer, and all of its frenetic fury has arrived in the city, and looks like it’s here to stay for the long haul.
For some, the argument could be made that it’s always been. Particularly in the Covington/Newton County/Rockdale County area where, not only is the high school game’s quality improving, but club soccer programs like the Covington Galaxy look to provide a viable feeder and developmental program to youth soccer for years to come.
Last Sunday, dozens of Newton and Covington area residents were peppered across the Bobby Dodd landscape, sporting their season tickets and expressing excitement for the arrival of one of the highest levels of the game into our metro area. Seeing our locals out shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering the Atlanta United franchise opener was actually the fourth largest crowd in the world – yes, you read that right – to watch a soccer game of any kind.
And may this fact do well to debunk a myth that Georgia sports fans only care about four things:
One thing my short time covering sports in Newton County has taught me is that people care about non-football sports with as much passion and fervor as those who reserve such passion and fervor only for the pigskin.
Not only that, but the talent is here – both young and old. Take 15 year-old Cousins Middle School student Jordan Beam for instance. As an eighth grader, Beam plays for the Eastside junior varsity squad. But he also plays for the Southeast Region III Olympic Development Soccer team. And in a few days, Beam will be traveling to Argentina to play soccer on a team that represents the United States.
Beam will be the only Georgian on the roster. You’ll read more about him and his story in next Sunday’s print edition. But suffice it to say that Beam is ecstatic about seeing such a high level of soccer as what the MLS and the United bring coming to Atlanta. It’s the level that he aspires to play at himself.
“I’m super excited for Atlanta United coming to town,” Beam said. “It’s going to bring a completely different culture to Atlanta, and with it coming to town, it’s finally giving kids from Georgia loads and loads of exposure. I just can’t wait to see how the top team performs on their opening season.”
For hundreds of thousands of people across this nation – many of them right here in Newton County and Covington – soccer is not just the “other football.” It’s the original one. It’s not something to do to pass the time until the Bulldogs or the Falcons begin their seasons again. For many, it is the thing to do all year round, no matter who else or what else is going on.
When I saw Bobby Dodd Stadium at its fullest and heard it at its loudest, it was still only about 85 percent full. That was about three years or so ago when Georgia Tech was blowing a 28-3 lead to Georgia in the rivalry game called “Good Old Fashioned Hate.” It was intense. But it wasn’t Atlanta United intense.
The only thing that this intensity could be attributed to is love. Good Old Fashioned Love for the game of soccer – a sport that can no longer be classified as something second hand. I’d venture to say that the love for the game expressed by so many last Sunday was probably something new to many of us, but something old hat for the many people who’ve been soccer fans from day one.
Gabriel Stovall is Sports Editor at The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him at @GabrielStovall1, and follow our sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports.