Someday Atlanta will have a chance to prove it can be a MLS town. But for now, local soccer fans should make it a great NASL town.
The first thing you notice while walking into Atlanta Silverbacks Park for the first time is the scrambled rainbow created by the facility's black, yellow, navy, purple (and so on) seats. Light blue seats and red seats, too, which matched the Atlanta Thrashers gear worn by displaced hockey fans invited in for cheap beers at a fun venue.
In the 10th minute of Saturday night's game, the one-win Silverbacks took a 1-0 lead on the league-leading Carolina RailHawks thanks to a strike by forward Matt Horth. It wasn't quite as improbable as the United States running out to a 2-0 advantage on Mexico two hours later, but you'll have to remember it was only the ninth goal the Silverbacks have scored since their rebirth.
The second thing you notice is the drumming. As they're an Atlanta sporting institution, the Silverbacks are required by city code to feature a drumline. While theirs is a volunteer corps composed of one kick and one tom, a full line would have to break a sweat to duplicate Section 109's total wattage.
Though Westside 109 stayed busy all night, my two favorite moments were their chants of "FC! Willie B!" and their helpful shouts up to the PA announcer after he announced a yellow card had been delivered to RailHawks defender Justin Krause.
"There were two!"
The voice of the Silverbacks sent a thumbs-up back to 109; he was still waiting to see Brad Rusin officially assessed with the other yellow. So interactive! You try going to a Hawks game and giving feedback to Ryan Cameron without aid of Twitter.
There were quite a few Thrashers jerseys in the house, though they tended to stick near the ground level watering hole, according to their kind. Still, attendance lagged behind the marks the team is regularly praised for by rival NASL fans -- considering the Gold Cup schedule, the night's maybe-drizzly weather and local club teams being on a break, seeing so many colorful seats didn't set off any alarms.
A discussion outside the park after the game: how can a team that plays this sport succeed in Atlanta, perhaps the weirdest sports city in the United States? My only real suggestion is the same as it is for everything else. Just have Arthur Blank buy some stuff!
Though some sort of Blank soccer project does appear to be in the works, that doesn't really help the city's current highest-level team. Attendance doesn't seem like a problem by any means, especially considering how new the team is, but more than a couple pro soccer teams have folded here before.
Selling the game to reeling Thrashers fans makes sense, though hopefully it didn't call to mind Kasim Reed's tonedeaf promise to replace the NHL team with something else. Both games are foreign to the Southeast, as once was every Southern sport except stock car racing. You'd think SEC East fans would fall in love with a sport that features four or five scores per game, but apparently a 13-9 football game sounds much more Dixie than a 3-2 soccer game does.
There are soccer fans in Atlanta. One thing people don't get about Atlanta: there are fans of absolutely anything here. A team like the Silverbacks is in the advantageous position of selling itself to fans of the game, not just the team -- it's cool for FC Willie B to sell patches of Premier League teams, but that doesn't mean you should sell Kobe Bryant jerseys, Atlanta Spirit.
A common exchange:
"Soccer will catch on. Give it time."
"People been saying that for 20 years."
Doesn't make it any less true. But around here, you pay your respects in addition to your dues.
In 1966, the Atlanta Falcons chose to wear red, black, white and gold in honor of the Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Kennesaw St. Owls wear black and gold for the same reasons. Saturday night, the red-and-black Silverbacks put in work beneath a rainbow drummed up by a Georgia shower as sports fans without a team drank it all in.
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