‘A-T-L! A-T-L!’: Atlanta’s improbable soccer love story

In a city where the other football is practically a religion, the upstart Atlanta United team are drawing huge crowds – and rewriting the story of a city of transplants

Photography by Ben Rollins

It’s more than four hours before kickoff at Mercedes-Benz stadium in downtown Atlanta on an unseasonably balmy October morning. The sprawling parking area known as the Gulch is bursting with activity, the sort of raucous, well-lubricated tailgate scene more commonly associated with America’s two most popular sports: the NFL and college football.

Football is indeed the day’s feature attraction, but not the brand traditionally linked to the deep south. Instead, red-clad fans numbering in the thousands have descended on the ground-level asphalt patch beneath a tangle of overpasses in support of Atlanta United, the nascent Major League Soccer (MLS) club that’s become the most improbable phenomenon in American sports today – and a vibrant symbol of a new Atlanta.

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