Atlanta, MLS don’t need to quiet doubts to be successful in the Southeast

10 Comments

Major League Soccer’s worst kept secret was its interest in Atlanta. As Don Garber’s reflex response goes, the league has been interested in the city for over a decade. Not only does it give MLS a coveted spot in the abandoned Southeast, but it represents a location that hasn’t failed before. Going into Florida? There’s a history there. In Atlanta, MLS can write its own.

Miami may be the capital of Latin America, but Atlanta is the center of the South. If MLS is going to go challenge the notion that professional soccer can’t gain a foothold in the region, it has to succeed in ‘The ATL’ – a focal point that can promote the sector’s link to the rest of the country. Without it, the two Florida franchises (Orlando and David Beckham’s eventual team in Miami) are left on an island, one that could sink once more.

It’s an endeavor that stares skeptics’ two main assumptions in the face – notions that also apply to the potential Miami franchise: First, that the cities are not a “good sports towns”; and second, MLS’s history says it can not succeed in the Southeast.

The funny part about the first it that there’s no clear standard for evaluating what is and is not a good sports town. And whatever standards you do hear? They’re probably completely inapplicable to Major League Soccer.

Critics will point out there’s a lack of excitement for the Dolphins and Marlins in Miami, the Hawks and Braves in Atlanta, but it’s not as if those teams are going out of business. Even the Marlins, at this point, are a well-established part of their city’s landscape. By Major League Soccer standards, those franchises are outrageous successes. If Miami and Atlanta are bad sports towns, it’s only relative to a lofty, irrelevant standard that shouldn’t apply to MLS.

Plus, as Blank alluded to in today’s press conference, the extent to which you can look at a football, basketball, or baseball franchise and see MLS’s future is a dubious one. According to the new MLS owner (citing information relayed to him by Seattle’s ownership), only three percent of Sounders season ticket holders do the same with the Seahawks. If you’re looking to NFL-ledd MLS teams as a means of evaluating Atlanta’s potential, here’s actually very little overlap between NFL customers and potential soccer supporters. As we’ve known for some time, soccer fans are a distinct type of customer, one that’s more likely to be reached with a distinct approach.

Perhaps paradoxically, that’s where Blank’s NFL organization can help. As those around Seattle recently noted as the Sounders severed business ties with the Seahawks, being linked to a huge, established organization likely helped the Sounders’ unprecedented growth. It gave the franchise a large machine capable of leveraging its experience in a way that took advantage of any opportunity for growth. Given the Falcons’ presence in Atlanta, Blank may be able to do the same.

Does that make Atlanta a good sport market? No, but it’s also unclear what a good sports market is. If having franchises like the Braves and Dolphins mean a city doest care about sports, maybe we’re too idealistic about what represents success in this realm. And if the doubters’ argument is that places like Salt Lake, Columbus, Santa Clara, Portland — small cities where MLS is already successful — represent better opportunities than the city with the 15th largest economy in the world, the standard is broken. MLS doesn’t need to win over the whole town. A small slice of the pie will work.

Critics, however, are also skeptical of MLS’s ability to penetrate the market, usually citing the region’s sports culture and MLS’s previous failures as reason to believe another Southeast excursion will fail. But if there’s one thing we know about Major League Soccer, it’s that the league is nothing like it was in 2001. Pointing to anything the league did at age six as an example of what it’s capable of at age 19 ignores the league’s trajectory.

source:
The Miami Fusion ceased operations in 2001, but a group led by David Beckham are hoping to secure a stadium that will allow a new team to play by 2017, the same year Atlanta will come into Major League Soccer.

By now, MLS is a totally different organism. It’s bigger and far more stable that it was in 2001, when a small group of owners were faced with the task to keeping the two Florida franchises afloat. MLS, struggling for its mere survival, didn’t have the resources back then. Overly reliant on Phil Anschutz and Lamar Hunt, the league couldn’t wait out teams’ slow starts.

But now, with the resources people like Blank, Beckham, and Manchester City’s ownership can throw behind new franchises, there’s no reason to expect those slow starts. Instead, these teams will try to hit the ground running, if not on the field than off. If they hit speed bumps, a large group of diverse owners can leverage to decades of lessons to promote the teams’ survival.

That’s not to say Atlanta, Miami, Orlando … New York or franchise no. 24 will succeed. Instead, it’s important to realize the league’s 1996-2001 track record is irrelevant. Different owners with different goals had different tools, none of which will be used in the MLS’s latest attempt to tackle the Southeast. Instead, a sport that’s made significant gains in national relevance over the last 13 years will take another shot, with new minds and new capabilities leading the charge.

If soccer in the Southeast fails, it won’t be for the same reasons Tampa Bay and Miami. And it probably won’t be because Atlanta and the Magic City aren’t Good Sports Towns. Major League Soccer doesn’t necessarily need GSTs to succeed.

It needs good owners. It needs people who have ideas that can help franchises identify that sliver of local support that will sustain the team. It needs a growing game and a vibrant league to give the teams a bigger, more relevant context. Right now, it just needs 20,000-or-so people to want to come to games.

It doesn’t need to make people forget the Mutiny and Fusion, and it doesn’t need to prove Atlanta and Miami are GSTs. All MLS needs to capture each city’s underserved soccer market. Even if that doesn’t push the Heat or Falcons on the back burner, it will be enough to allow address those doubts.

STREAM LIVE: Liverpool host Crystal Palace at Anfield

Leave a comment

Liverpool welcome Crystal Palace to Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to boost their top four hopes.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

With Arsenal and Manchester City playing in the FA Cup semifinal this game represents a good opportunity for Liverpool to extend their lead in the race for a top four finish but they have lost each of their last two home games against Palace in the PL. The Eagles need another big win after relegation rivals Hull and Swansea both won on Saturday.

In team news Liverpool look to be starting Wijnaldum out wide, while Palace have to reshuffled their defense with Mamadou Sakho unable to play against his parent club.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi. Subs: Karius, Gomez, Grujic, Moreno, Brewster, Woodburn, Alexander-Arnold

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Tomkins, Schlupp; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Townsend, Puncheon, Zaha; Benteke. Subs: Speroni, Van Aanholt, Delaney, Flamini, McArthur, Sako, Campbell

Burnley 0-2 Man United: Top four hopes alive

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • United unbeaten in 23 PL games
  • Red Devils one point off top four
  • Martial, Rooney on target in first half
  • Burnley five points off bottom three

An injury-hit Manchester United beat Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor on Sunday to keep their hopes of a top four finish well and truly alive.

First half goals from the excellent Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney did the damage as Jose Mourinho’s men go into Thursday’s Manchester derby against City just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals.

With the win United move on to 63 points, while Burnley remain on 36 and are just five points above the relegation zone after another inept display in attack.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Early on United missed a massive chance as Anthony Martial’s surge into the box found Ander Herrera and he fed the ball to Rooney but he couldn’t trouble Tom Heaton from close range.

Marouane Fellaini then had a free header from a corner but nodded it down straight at Heaton who again saved from close range.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Rooney then sent a cross inches over the bar as United hit Burnley on the counter and that was to become a theme of the game. On the next counter Martial broke, played a one-two with Herrera and the Frenchman finished superbly to make it 1-0.

Before half time Ben Mee went close to getting on the end of Robbie Brady‘s free kick but then Rooney made it 2-0 as good build up play from Paul Pogba set in Martial and his shot deflected off Heaton and straight to Rooney who nudged the ball over the line.

Andre Gray then had a shot deflected wide as Burnley always looked dangerous from set pieces but United were clinical.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half United stayed solid and Pogba had a rasping drive pushed away by Heaton.

The home side failed to create any real clear cut chances with Michael Keane heading across goal but nobody was attacking the second ball.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Marcus Rashford, on as a sub, raced clear and forced Heaton into a fine stop at his near post as United ran out comfortable winners but Pogba limping off in the 90th minute will leave Mourinho concerned about even more injuries to his squad.

Lazio’s Keita scores five-minute hat trick in rout

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Keita Balde Diao had himself a day on Sunday.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Within five minutes he scored three times to put Lazio 5-0 up against Palermo in Serie A after Ciro Immobile had scored twice in two minutes to put them 2-0 up after just nine minutes at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Eagles scored with all five of their opening shots against Palermo to lead 5-0 after just 26 minutes.

Watch the video of Keita’s remarkable hat trick below as the Senegalese forward, like his team, is on fire.


Keita makes it 3-0 in 21st minute…

Keita makes it 4-0 in 24th minute…

Keita makes it 5-0 in 26th minute…

LIVE – Arsenal v. Man City in FA Cup semifinal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal and Manchester City clash in an FA Cup semifinal on Sunday at Wembley which promises to be a case of all-out attack.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola met earlier this month with their teams drawing 2-2 at the Emirates Stadium in an end-to-end encounter.

The winner of this semifinal will play Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley after Antonio Conte‘s side beat Tottenham 4-2 on Saturday.

In team news Arsenal stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation they used at Middlesbrough with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil off Olivier Giroud.

City line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Aguero up top and Leroy Sane, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne off him.

Click on the link above to follow live coverage of what promises to be an entertaining semifinal, while here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have plenty more reaction and analysis after the game too.