Atlanta's pro soccer team hosts New York City Sunday Nov. 11 in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. Atlanta United beat New York City FC 1-0 Nov. 4 at Yankee Stadium. Whichever team scores the most goals over these two games advances to the Eastern Conference Finals.
GPB Sports' Jon Nelson hosts the podcast "Soccer Down Here" about soccer in the South. He spoke with "All Things Considered" Atlanta host Rickey Bevington about Atlanta’s successful second season.
Rickey Bevington: Why is Atlanta United playing the same team twice in the playoffs?
Jon Nelson: The rules for soccer leagues are different from country to country. What Major League Soccer decided to do for their semifinal stage and their final stage inside of conferences is basically a "home and home." There are other leagues around the world that do it this way. There are some that do just one and you're done. But this was what MLS decided to adopt for almost "fairs up" and that kind of a thing where "you get one at your place, you get one at our place" and then you decide it from there.
Bevington: Assuming that the home field advantage can then benefit both teams.
Nelson: Right. And that way you try to take full advantage of when you've got it at home. You try to get as much done possible so you don't have to go to that next place and have to work that much harder to get it done.
Bevington: Which is what New York will be doing. Why is it a big deal for Atlanta United to even reach the playoffs?
Nelson: Well think of a startup business. For any startup business to have a mercurial rise after its second year of existence, tor it to have that kind of an economic impact, impact in the community, all these kinds of things. Think of any business in its second year like a Google or an Amazon. If something like that is successful in a second year you're really doing well.
Bevington: A big part of that is what are called Supporters Groups. This is unique to soccer. What are Supporters Groups and what is their impact on the game and the fans?
Nelson: Right now there are four that are officially recognized. They sit there and say "okay you get X number of tickets, you get X number of space for every home game, you pledged to do certain things in the community you pledged to give back. You pledged to have soccer for good." You have the four Supporters Groups involved with Atlanta United and they have their different causes whether it's Soccer in the Streets or Fujees Family or things like that. They want to wrap themselves in the soccer community in that way and give back. But at the same time you have folks with a common thought pattern because soccer being as inclusive a sport as it is you have people of like mind who think the same things. That's another part of the soccer community and you get to just hang out with friends old and new by the time you're talking about.
Bevington: Supporters Groups are the people at the game going absolutely bananas. They've got drums. They've got trumpets.
Nelson: They've got massive flags and "tifos" - those big banners that you see that are unfurled.
Bevington: For people who go to a game for the first time who don't understand what all of those flags and banners are, explain this.
Nelson: It's part of the pageantry of it. It's a way to show support for your team. And you can either do it in what they call a "tifo" - it's an Italian term - and that's what you'll see in the end zone. It's drawn up on strings and it has a picture that represents a thought pattern for the particular game. They'll have flags that will have symbols on them that reference the home team or to the Supporters Group itself. You'll see a banner in the endzone with something about New York City or Game 1 or something like that. It's just another way of showing support that you can actually take inside and be a part of the pageantry of the whole thing.
Bevington: So back to the game Jon. What are our odds of winning and what happens if we do win?
Second question first. When you win, you go to the conference finals and then you'll play another "home and home" against either Columbus, Ohio or the other team that's in New York that plays in the suburbs out in New Jersey [New York Red Bulls]. They're playing the same thing right now and they'll be decided this weekend as well. Chances are pretty good. I think it comes down to scoring the first goal. If Atlanta United puts the first goal in at home then they have a two goal advantage. That means that the visitors NYC FC would have to score three times to win it in 90 minutes. If they score twice, then you get into tiebreakers and things like that. With them scoring more goals on the road than Atlanta, you get into math, and you said there'd be no math on the show.
Bevington: Major League Soccer scoring is very complicated. You don't just have to win the game. You've got to get points and they accrue over the season, they accrue over the playoffs. I wasn't going to abuse my audience with the math and the complications.
Nelson: Or abuse me with the math (laughs).
Jon Nelson also hosts the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast for GPB. You can hear it at GPB.org/Sports.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
VIDEO: Atlanta hip-hop artist and Atlanta United supporter Archie Eversole's official single United We Conquer: