Faced with the prospect of an anticlimactic opening to its inaugural season, MLS expansion team Atlanta United has decided against opening the 2017 campaign with three months of road games. Instead, the club will host matches at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium while the retractable-roof facility it will share with the NFL’s Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is completed.
“With the amount of excitement we’ve seen for the club, especially over the past few months as our season ticket sales have continued to rise, it was evident that playing at home for the first part of the season was in the best interest of our fans and our players,” United president Darren Eales said in a Wednesday release.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank was awarded the MLS team in April 2014. United says it has received deposits for more than 22,000 season tickets since then. Mercedes-Benz Stadium was scheduled to open next summer, but the club hopes to begin moving offices and warehousing over from the Georgia Dome by April. The new $1.4 billion, 71,000-seat arena features a mechanized canopy system designed to reduce capacity for soccer.
United didn’t indicate how many games it plans to play at Georgia Tech, but it said there would be a “balanced slate of home games across the MLS season.”
Bobby Dodd Stadium seats around 55,000 and is located a couple miles north of the Georgia Dome and the site of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Its last major renovation occurred in 2002-03.
Multiple MLS teams have faced the obstacle confronting Atlanta. The Columbus Crew were the first to do it, heading out for seven games while waiting for its soccer-specific stadium to open in the summer of 1999. Sporting Kansas City played the first 11 games of the 2011 season away from home before finally getting into its new park that June. Toronto FC has hit the road at the start of the past two seasons while BMO Field was renovated. The Philadelphia Union compromised in 2010, playing twice at Lincoln Financial Field and eight times away before opening its soccer-specific home in Chester.
Atlanta will be one of two MLS expansion teams kicking off at a college football stadium next year. The other United, from Minnesota, will spend the entire season (and most, if not all, of 2018) at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium while its new facility in St. Paul is constructed.
Wednesday’s announcement follows last week’s unveiling of Gerardo Martino as United’s first head coach. He led the Argentina national team following this summer’s Copa América Centenario. Atlanta’s academy teams are already playing and it has signed seven players to the senior roster, including Argentine winger Héctor Villalba and Trinidad & Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones.