Atlanta’s new MLS franchise has already sold 14,000 season tickets

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There’s still three years until they will kick a ball in Major League Soccer but the league’s newest expansion franchise to arrive is already making waves. Atlanta’s MLS franchise, operated by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, has seen an incredible surge of interest in soccer in ATL.

[RELATED: Atlanta is MLS’ newest franchise]

So far over 14,000 season ticket applications have been submitted by soccer fans in the city, as Atlanta’s new 29,000 capacity soccer stadium is already half full. Those applications are in place after $50 deposits were made by fans towards securing seats in the brand new stadium.

From the 2017 season the franchise will share their home with the Falcons, as a roof divider will cover the top tier of the 70,000 capacity venue to make it a more intimate setting for soccer matches. For further reference on similar soccer configurations in MLS, see BC Place, home of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Here is a video of how that will work in Atlanta.

From the franchises information website, owner Arthur Blank spoke at a breakfast on Wednesday and has urged more fans to get on board by the end of 2014.

Speaking at a breakfast presented by Atlanta Magazine Wednesday morning, MLS Atlanta Owner Arthur Blank challenged soccer fans to fill the remaining 11,000 seats for MLS Atlanta games in the new Atlanta stadium by the end of the year.

Thus far over 14,000 seats have been committed by fans who put down a $50 deposit to become members of the MLS Atlanta Founder’s Club, which affords fans recognition in the new stadium, priority seating choices and other benefits. Founder’s Club members are able to reserve up to 8 seats in the new Atlanta Stadium.

The MLS Atlanta franchise will begin play in 2017.

With a real supporters culture growing in Atlanta over two seasons before the team even arrives, news like this is a huge boost for MLS. We all know that interest in Orlando and Miami as expansion franchises has been through the roof in recent months, but news surrounding the league’s new venture in Atlanta has kind of dissolved into the background. With a NASL side already present in the city, it is intriguing to see if Atlanta can become a true hub for the sport in the U.S. It has long been listed as a potential hotbed for soccer and we are beginning to see why.

However, with 14,000 people handing over $50 for season tickets deposits two years before the team is around, how many of those will disappear between now and then? Anyway, that’s the cynic in me.

This large number of season ticket sales, without the franchise having a name, a manager of any players, proves soccer can thrive in the South. Comparing it to rumored season ticket sales from the last few years around MLS, ATL is faring well.

Here are some approximate numbers from the past few seasons to give you an idea how impressive this is.

Total season ticket holders, per club, in MLS

Seattle Sounders FC – 32,000 (2010)

Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 15,500-16,500 (2011)

Toronto FC – 16,000 (2011)

Portland Timbers FC – 14,750 (2012)

Philadelphia Union – 12,000-13,000 (2011)

Sporting Kansas City – 11,000 (2011)

Real Salt Lake – 7,000-8,000 (2011)

Montreal Impact – 5,000+ (2012)

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea will set up a clash with Jose Mourinho.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists) and the Frenchman is proving to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense, will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

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Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.