Timeout with Harsha Sridhar

Photo by John Nakano

Bobby Dodd Stadium is, at least for a few games, going to be home to a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. And that is something to celebrate.

I say that because I know all too well the apathetic shrug we turn towards sports sometimes. And I agree that with senior design projects and group projects and capstone projects and, well, every other type of project, it can be hard to look much further than the next deadline.

This is a big deal. Not only because fans from around the city will flock to our stadium and take up our parking spaces and block our streets. But also because we are getting the chance to play a part in modern sports history.

Sure, MLS has yet to achieve real mainstream support in the United States. It certainly lags behind the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League in terms of mainstream popularity. Walk down a street and you are much more likely to see a Cowboys jersey than one for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Yet MLS has something those leagues just do not: real room for growth. Despite playing in smaller venues than football teams, only seven of the league’s twenty teams had average attendance at or over capacity in 2016, courtesy of MLSsoccer.com. Only one team, the Seattle Sounders, has an average attendance that rivals that of Europe’s three top leagues: Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and the English
Premier League.

Soccer (or football, depending on whom you ask) is the world’s most passionately followed sport. Manchester United fans hail from all over the world, and you would be hard-pressed to find a major world city without a group of devoted fans discussing the virtues of Lionel Messi. The sport plays such a role in international relations that Tech professor Kirk Bowman teaches a course devoted to the relationship between soccer and global politics.

If recent years are any indication, those seeds may have finally taken hold in the United States. More and more European players near the end of their careers have found the appeal of living large in American cities. And while thirty-something Thierry Henry and equally old David Beckham did not exactly recreate the passion of soccer on the other side of the pond, it was a start.

So let us show the newly christened Atlanta United that our city is, indeed, united. Let us rally behind former Barcelona (and Argentina national team) manager Gerardo Martino and his gang of young players and veterans as they bring a new sport to our city and our stadium.