Atlanta’s first Major League Soccer team plays its inaugural game Sunday to a sold out crowd.
Atlanta United hosts one of the league’s founding clubs, the well-established New York Red Bulls.
It’ll be a tough contest for the fledgling Atlanta team.
Yesterday, I drove out to Flowery Branch to see how they’re playing and feeling ahead of their first game.
About three dozen soccer players are scrimmaging in small groups of six at their practice facility about an hour north of Atlanta.
They run constantly, quickly passing a ball between themselves in square “fields” demarcated by small orange cones.
Sharp-eyed coaches walk around blowing whistles and yelling feedback.
The players and coaches communicate seamlessly in English and Spanish.
"There’s a few coaches who speak English and Spanish as well so they just translate here and there."
19-year-old defender Miles Robinson is from Massachusetts, but says he’s used to an international work environment.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2016 Defensive Player of Year wore the Syracuse Orange jersey with teammates from Europe and South America during his three semesters in Upstate New York.
Atlanta United’s roster includes four players from the state of Georgia and others native to the United States, plus teammates from as far away as Germany, Trinidad, Venezuela and Paraguay.
"It’s more of getting to know each other as players and what each player likes to do on and off the ball," Robinson says. "Practicing how to communicate whether it’s saying a few words in Spanish so they can understand or make it clear for them to react faster."
Veteran 31 year-old forward Jacob Peterson has played with four other clubs and he’s realistic going into their first game.
"Yeah … It’s going to be a work in progress. I think there are certainly high expectations. But at the same time we’ve been together for six weeks.
You know that’s hard to build a team.
It’s hard to you know be firing on all cylinders right away."
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Major League Soccer awarded an expansion franchise to Atlanta United FC three years ago.
The team’s owner, Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, also owns the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta United’s been training at Falcons facilities, which Jacob Peterson says is a major change from some other clubs, which are run by small-time, inexperienced owners.
Like the Falcons, Atlanta United will play home games in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is set to open in downtown Atlanta this summer.
Until their first match there on July 30, the team is paying Georgia Tech $45,000 a pop to play at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
A bleed-over of Falcons Fever and excitement over the new stadium may explain why this brand new club already has 30,000+ season tickets holders.
Peterson says it boosts his team’s morale to join an organization that just went to the Super Bowl.
"...If we could have even close to that success that would be great for us."
The man responsible for getting Atlanta United to the MLS Cup -- soccer’s version of the Super Bowl -- is legendary Argentinian player and manager Tata Martino.
I tried to interview him, but the team said his English isn’t quite good enough for prime time radio.
Players like Miles Robinson aren’t worried:
"He’s getting a lot better at his English, so it’s a fast process and it should be a lot easier from now on."
Thankfully, soccer fans in every language know this word: