Why Atlanta is a Soccer City

The city of Atlanta has had a vibrant sporting culture for decades. Atlanta has played host to nearly every big high-profile sports event – from the World Series to the Olympics. This city has seen it all and has routinely been at the center of attention when it comes to the sporting world. The eyes of the world will once again be placed squarely on this city when the summer of 2026 rolls around. That is when the world-renowned Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta will serve as one of 16 sites across North America for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

Games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium are on a different level. (Photo by Paul Daniel)

Here in the present-day, it’s not particularly shocking that Atlanta was deemed to be enough of a high-caliber soccer city to host World Cup matches. However, you don’t even have to go 10 years into the past in order to imagine a time where the sport may not have been considered to have been popular enough in Atlanta to warrant having a Major League Soccer team – much less the World Cup. 

That changed as soon as Atlanta United came onto the scene as an expansion club and began playing in MLS in 2017. The Five Stripes hit the ground running with barrage of momentum as they routinely sold out games at Bobby Dodd Stadium while the finishing touches were being placed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

There’s nothing like cheering on Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta United)

Once Atlanta United eventually moved into its permanent home Downtown, the momentum stayed the same as the team took both the city of Atlanta and the MLS by storm. Atlanta United made the playoffs in the first season and then went even further in the next two seasons. Playing before a crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (a crowd that ended up being around 3,000 fans larger than the crowd that showed up for Super Bowl LIII in the same stadium two months later), Atlanta United reached the top of American soccer and became MLS Cup champions for the 2018 season. The team followed this up in 2019 by winning the U.S. Open Cup and defeating Mexican champions Club América in the Campeones Cup. 

Atlanta United reached these dizzying heights while playing in front of the largest crowds in MLS. In fact, the Five Stripes have led MLS in attendance for every season since entering the league in 2017. Atlanta United games are some of the most highly attended games in the world. The various supporter groups for Atlanta United keep the energy high in the world-class stadium for home games as they chant, cheer, wave flags and display tifos for every single match.

Due to the team being relevant on the pitch and the fans’ unrelenting interest in the club, Atlanta United also receives far more coverage from local news outlets than other MLS teams receive in their respective cities. Not too many MLS teams can lay claim to being big enough to warrant having a beat writer, regular reports on the local news and segments on sports radio – Atlanta United is an exception to this rule. 

While Atlanta United’s popularity may have been surprising to observers from outside of the city, the team’s presence in the city served to galvanize local soccer fans and bring what had been an underground culture of fans to the forefront of Atlanta’s sporting experience. Soccer fans in Atlanta don’t just support Atlanta United – they also fervently support teams from abroad as well. If you go to bars such as Brewhouse Cafe, Fadó Irish Pub and Hudson Grille on a Saturday morning matchday or on Boxing Day in particular, it’s a guarantee that you’ll find the pub full of excited fans watching the games. Nearly every single Premier League club has an officially recognized fan club in Atlanta, and you can also find fan clubs for teams in Spain, Germany, Italy and France. This vibrant soccer fan base will be on display on July 26 when the Premier League Summer Series doubleheader will be played in front of a full house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Game on at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by Melissa McAlpine)

Mexican soccer fans have routinely made their presence felt in stadiums across the city. In 2022, Club América and Chivas de Guadalajara played a “friendly” edition of the heated Súper Clásico rivalry in front of a large and passionate crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Mexican National Team has routinely played games in front of massive crowds in Atlanta since 2009 and will be playing Uzbekistan at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 12. 

In fact, “El Tri” played a game against Nigeria in Atlanta in March 2014 that drew more than 68,000 fans to the Georgia Dome and a month after that, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced that his bid for the MLS expansion team that would eventually become Atlanta United had been accepted. The local fans in Atlanta had proven that after supporting teams from out-of-town for so long, they were ready to support a team of their own in order to truly put Atlanta on the map as a soccer town. 

Atlanta’s love for the sport doesn’t just limit itself to the stands, the seats and the pubs. Indeed, Atlantans and people all over the metro area are keen to play the game themselves. One of the top organizations for players who want to get on the pitch to kick the ball around is Sons of Pitches FC. The group offers “friendly, welcoming vibes” for all players no matter what their skill level or what their background or demographic. The organization serves as a wonderful way to meet fellow enthusiasts of the beautiful game in order to connect people from all walks of life. The result is that no matter if it’s just a random pickup game or an organized league, the group works to ensure that it’s welcoming to all people so that the game is as diverse as the city itself. 

View a sea of red while cheering on Atlanta United. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta United)

The Soccer In The Streets program has also played a major role in helping to bring the game to areas of the city that wouldn’t normally have access to it. The Station Soccer collaboration between Soccer In The Streets, Atlanta United and MARTA resulted in multiple soccer pitches being created at various MARTA train stations across the city. As of right now, there are five pitches across town, and the goal is to put up plenty more over the next few years. The goal is to eliminate transportation as one of the barriers for playing soccer at a grassroots level – whether it’s as a youth player or as an adult trying to get into a recreational league. As soccer continues to grow in popularity and participation, Soccer In The Streets and Sons of Pitches FC are both doing their part to make sure that the game continues to grow from a foundational level as well. 

Between the passion for the local club, the fervor for games being played abroad and the interest in the game at a grassroots level, Atlanta has truly embraced the game with open arms. As a result of this, Atlanta has been recognized as one of the top cities for the sport on a global level. Atlanta United has been a runaway success in MLS, leagues like England’s Premier League and Mexico’s Liga MX. Each has viewed Atlanta as a viable city for high-profile friendlies. Mexico’s national team has routinely visited Atlanta with enthusiastic crowds filling stadiums, and fans have helped contribute to a diverse and thriving local experience on the pitch itself. It may have been hard to envision 10 years ago, but now the rest of the world will see it once the World Cup kicks off in 2026: Atlanta really and truly is a soccer city.  

Check out Where to Watch Soccer in Atlanta to prepare for your next game day in the A.

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