Atlanta becomes U.S. soccer’s new hotbed, but will it last?

AP Photo/Paul Newberry
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ATLANTA (AP) The cheer begins slowly, rhythmically – everyone raising their hands above their heads, clapping in sync to the beat of the drum, screaming in unison and picking up speed with each chant.

A! ….. T! ….. L!

A! … T! ….L!

A! T! L!

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Welcome to soccer’s newest hotbed, which has sprouted in a city known for its fickle sports fans and all the heartbreak doled out by its teams.

Atlanta United has been a shining star amid a year of intense disappointment for American soccer , a dashing, high-scoring team that has drawn record crowds and stirred fervent passion in its very first season.

From packed stands at Bobby Dodd Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to flag-waving fans who bounce up and down from the opening kick to the final whistle , an Atlanta United game provide the latest glimmer of hope that the U.S. might someday embrace the world’s most popular sport the way the rest of the world does.

“This is unprecedented, certainly in our sport,” said Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer. “This team has attracted the attention of the entire soccer- and football-playing world.”

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Garber knew something was up when United sold more than 30,000 season tickets Before playing its first game. Then, a crowd of 55,000 turned out for opening night , which was held in a college football stadium on Georgia Tech’s campus while workers scrambled to finish $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium .

As the days and weeks and months passed, from the promise of spring through the heat of summer to the changing leaves of fall, the fans kept coming. When the team finally moved into new retractable-roof home in mid-September, they didn’t let up. Finally, this past weekend, a crowd of 71,874 attended the regular-season finale , more than any other single game in MLS history.

It was hardly an anomaly. United set the previous record five weeks earlier with its first 70,000-plus turnout. For the season, Atlanta averaged 48,200 per game, easily eclipsing the mark set two years earlier by Seattle, the MLS’ flagship franchise. For comparison’s sake, United’s numbers eclipsed the top team in Italy’s Serie A during the 2016-17 season and would’ve ranked in the upper half of the attendance table for any of Europe’s top leagues.

United has provided some much-needed good news for American soccer, which is still reeling from the stunning failure of the U.S. national team to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia .

“Without any history on this club, to build something like that, to build the support that we got, that’s very impressive, that in just one year we could get to this point,” said Kevin Kratz, a German midfielder who plays for United.

Actually, Atlanta’s soccer history goes back to the fledgling days of the sport in the U.S.

The Chiefs were founded in 1967 and captured the first championship in the North American Soccer League (NASL). But the team never drew as many as 7,000 fans per game, bouncing between Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Georgia Tech’s stadium and even a high school facility south of the city. Hardly anyone noticed when the franchise went out of business in 1973, having spent its final year known as the Apollos.

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The Chiefs returned in 1979, this time owned by Ted Turner, but not much changed. Attendance was poor and the team struggled on the field, lasting only three years before folding again.

This is a totally different scenario. United was built for success, from owner Arthur Blank (who also owns the NFL Falcons) to a new stadium to a metro area that is now home to nearly 6 million people and a far more diverse population than it had during the Chiefs era.

Still, the popularity of the team caught everyone off guard.

“There was just an energy and a passion that I think is just similar to whether you’re in Europe watching a game, whether you’re in South America,” United president Darren Eales said. “The fans stand up for the whole game, the fans doing the A-T-L Icelandic chant, those sort of rituals and excitement behind the game … I think it’s a new America. It’s a sport that brought together the city of Atlanta, a city of transplants that’s very international.

“It’s become their club.”

The day after the regular season ended, United was recognized for its impressive debut when MLS awarded the 2018 All-Star Game to Mercedes-Benz Stadium . But the team has more immediate priorities, having qualified for the playoffs and the chance to host a first-round game against Columbus – an original MLS franchise that, in an interesting twist, is pondering a possible move to Texas because of waning attendance and demands for a new stadium.

Another huge, raucous crowd is expected Thursday night.

“They aren’t just spectators,” said United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a longtime member of the U.S. national team. “They’re involved in terms of their voice. … It’s truly remarkable.”

United is hoping to build the sort of championship success that has eluded Atlanta’s big league teams. Other than the Chiefs’ long-forgotten title, the Braves are the only other franchise to win it all, and that was more than two decades ago in the 1995 World Series.

More indicative of the city’s sports history was the Falcons’ performance in the last Super Bowl. They squandered a 25-point lead in the second half and lost to the New England Patriots in overtime, casting a pall over Atlanta that still lingers just a bit .

Off the field, United still must prove it can hold the city’s attention for a sustained period.

Look no further than Atlanta’s two National Hockey League teams, the Flames and the Thrashers. Both drew large crowds in their early days, but it didn’t last.

Both wound up leaving the city .

United intends to write a new chapter.

They may be on to something.

“Actually, I’m not surprised,” said Elizabeth Edwards, who attended the final regular-season game. “Soccer has been huge in Georgia, and it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I’m a middle-school teacher, so I watch my kids play. They care more about soccer than they do football.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

World Cup 2022 schedule – groups, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

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The World Cup 2022 schedule is locked in and there is so much to look forward to ahead of the tournament in Qatar in November to December.

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From the USMNT facing England the day after Thanksgiving to Mexico and Argentina squaring off in the group stages, Spain facing Germany, and Belgium vs Canada, there are plenty of intriguing games in the opening round.

[ MORE: USMNT react to draw

Then we have the Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final to look forward to.

Below is the schedule in full, details on how to watch the games and everything else you need..

[ MORE: World Cup odds ]


World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
Group stage game kick off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
Location: Qatar
TV channel in English: Fox
TV channel in Spanish: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock


Group A schedule (all kick off times ET)

November, 20: Qatar vs Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 12pm
November, 21: Senegal vs Netherlands – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
November, 25: Qatar vs Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 8am
November, 25: Netherlands vs Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 11am
November, 29: Netherlands vs Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 10am
November, 29: Ecuador vs Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Group B schedule

November, 21: England vs Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
November, 21: USA vs Wales- Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
November, 25: England vs USA – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm
November, 25: Wales vs Iran – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 5am
November, 29: Wales vs England – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
November, 29: Iran vs USA – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm

Group C schedule

November, 22: Argentina vs Saudi Arabia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 5am
November, 22: Mexico vs Poland – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
November, 26: Argentina vs Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm
November, 26: Poland vs Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
November, 30: Poland vs Argentina – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm
November, 30: Saudi Arabia vs Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Group D schedule

November, 22: France vs Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 2pm
November, 22: Denmark vs Tunisia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
November, 26: France vs Denmark – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
November, 26: Tunisia vs Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 5am
November, 30: Tunisia vs France –  Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
November, 30: Australia vs Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 10am

Group E schedule

November, 23: Spain vs Costa Rica- Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 11am
November, 23: Germany vs Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
November, 27: Spain vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm
November, 27: Japan vs Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 5am
December, 1: Japan vs Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
December, 1: Costa Rica vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm

Group F schedule

November, 23: Belgium vs Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
November, 23: Morocco vs Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
November, 27: Belgium vs Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 8am
November, 27: Croatia vs Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 11am
December, 1: Croatia vs Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
December, 1: Canada vs Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 10am

Group G schedule

November, 24: Brazil vs Serbia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm
November, 24: Switzerland vs Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 5am
November, 28: Brazil vs Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
November, 28: Cameroon vs Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 5am
December, 2: Cameroon vs Brazil – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm
December, 2: Serbia vs Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm

Group H schedule

November, 24: Portugal vs Ghana – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
November, 24: Uruguay vs South Korea – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
November, 28: Portugal vs Uruguay – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm
November, 28: South Korea vs Ghana – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 8am
December, 2: South Korea vs Portugal – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
December, 2: Ghana vs Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 10am


Round of 16 schedule

Match 49 – December, 3: Winner Group A vs Runners up Group B – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 50 – December, 3:  Winners Group C vs Runners up Group D – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm

Match 52 -December, 4: Winners Group D vs Runners up Group C – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha – 10am

Match 51 – December, 4: Winners Group B vs Runners up Group A – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm

Match 53 -December, 5: Winners Group E vs Runners up Group F – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 10am

Match 54 – December, 5: Winners Group G vs Runners up Group H – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm

Match 55 – December, 6: Winners Group F vs Runners up Group E – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 56 – December, 6: Winners Group H vs Runners up Group G – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm


Quarterfinal schedule

Match 58 – December, 9: Winners Match 53 vs Winners Match 54 – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 57 – December, 9: Winners Match 49 vs Winners Match 50 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am

Match 60 – December, 10: Winners Match 55 vs Winners Match 56 – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha – 10am

Match 59 – December, 10: Winners Match 51 vs Winners Match 52 – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Semifinal schedule

Match 61 – December, 13: Winners Match 57 vs Winners Match 58 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Match 62 – December, 14: Winners Match 59 vs Winners Match 60 – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Third-place play-off

Match 63 – December, 17: Losers Match 61 vs Losers Match 62 – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm


Final

Match 64 – December, 18: Winners Match 61 vs Winners Match 62 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am

Report: Christian Pulisic ‘in talks’ over move to Juventus

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A report from Italian outlet Calcio Mercato claims that USMNT star Christian Pulisic is ‘in talks’ over a move to Juventus.

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Pulisic, 24, was linked with a move away from Chelsea all summer long and has recently revealed how he felt disappointed when Thomas Tuchel (now the former Chelsea boss) left him out of the starting lineup for the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg against Real Madrid in May 2021.

With Tuchel gone, Christian Pulisic could break back into the Chelsea starting lineup under new boss Graham Potter but it is widely expected that the American winger will leave the Premier League giants in the coming months with less than two years remaining on his current contract.


What is the latest?

Per the report, Juventus like Pulisic because he can play in several different positions in the attacking third of the pitch.

The report also claims that Juve have held initial talks with Pulisic’s agent about a contract and were told that Pulisic plans to leave Chelsea at the end of the 2022-23 season when he has just one year left on his contract as he wants a ‘new challenge’ in his career.

There is also a claim that Chelsea want $33.7 million for Pulisic and won’t budge on that transfer fee even if he has just one year left on his contract.

Pulisic looks like he needs a fresh start in his club career as Graham Potter will play a fluid 3-4-2-1 system and relies heavily on his wing backs to provide attacking impetus from out wide. That doesn’t suit Pulisic at all


Is Juventus a good fit?

Probably. His pace and dribbling skills would cause problem in any team and the way Juventus play under Max Allegri (if he’s still there when/if Pulisic arrives) relies heavily on getting the ball wide early and encouraging wingers to attack.

Along with that tactical approach, Pulisic would also get the chance to play alongside his close friend and USMNT teammate Weston McKennie. That could bring out the best in both of them.

It now seems a case of when, not if, Pulisic leaves Chelsea. And when he does, he will have plenty of offers to move to a team playing in the Champions League and considered a giant in their country. Given his ability on the ball, what he’s shown in flashes throughout his career and his presence as a superstar in the United States of America, teams across will line up to sign him.


USMNT projected starting lineup vs Saudi Arabia

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The USMNT face Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain in their final warm-up game before the 2022 World Cup kicks off in November and there are plenty of question marks around their best starting lineup.

Especially at center back and up front.

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Following the shocking defeat to Japan (where a 2-0 scoreline in Japan’s favor heavily flattered the USMNT), Gregg Berhalter has plenty to think about as he juggles his roster around ahead of this final audition.

Yes, this final camp before the World Cup has seen the USMNT without six key players (Weah, Steffen, A. Robinson, Carter-Vickers, Richards and Musah) but the most concerning thing is that nobody took the opportunity given to them against Japan. Will anybody step up against Saudi Arabia and cement their spot in the roster, or even the starting lineup?

Below is our projected lineup, plus analysis on what Berhalter should do for the final 90 minutes he has with the team before they kick off their World Cup campaign against Wales on Nov. 21 in Qatar.


USMNT projected starting lineup vs Saudi Arabia (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Yedlin — Zimmerman — Palmer-Brown — Dest —

—- Adams —- Acosta —-

—- Reyna —-

— Aaronson — Pepi — Pulisic —


What should Berhalter do?

It’s clear that Gregg Berhalter will make plenty of changes as eight players (six outfield, two goalkeepers) didn’t have any minutes against Japan last time out. That said, he needs key players on this team to find some rhythm playing together less than two months before the World Cup kicks off. This starting lineup should be a mixture between giving players a final chance to impress and letting star players alongside each other as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup.

Goalkeepers

Matt Turner proved he’s the undisputed No. 1 as he excelled against Japan (perhaps the only player to leave that game with any credit) and although Zack Steffen is better with the ball at his feet, Turner appears to have the upper-hand. That leaves Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson to battle it out for the final goalkeeping spot on the roster. Expect them both to get a chance in this game.

Defenders

In defense, Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie should both get plenty of minutes to make their final claim for a spot on the roster but it may be a surprise to see them line up together. Perhaps they will have 45 minutes each alongside Zimmerman (a guaranteed starter at CB) to see who fares better as a duo?

At full back Joe Scally should get a run out at right back, while Sergino Dest will likely show off his versatility and play left back. The likes of Dest, and others, need the game time given they’re on the fringes of their starting lineup for their club teams. We now what DeAndre Yedlin can do and he is a leader on this team who is going to Qatar no matter what.

Midfielders

In midfield, I’d start Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie together again but Kellyn Acosta will probably get a start.

The duo of Adams and McKennie looked awful against Japan, which was very surprising, and they have to get some kind of partnership going and 60 minutes together here could see things click back into place for them. We know what Luca de la Torre and Acosta offer, while Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman could both get another, longer, chance to push for a spot on the roster.

Forwards

Gio Reyna playing in a central role as a No. 10 should be something Berhalter prioritizes, while Christian Pulisic is fit and will start (according to Berhalter) so he should start on the left and Brenden Aaronson should start on the right. Getting Aaronson, Reyna and Pulisic used to playing together and interchanging is something that has to be done.

Up top, Berhalter has confirmed that Ricardo Pepi will get his chance to start and his physicality and speed should combine very well with the trio underneath him. Expect Josh Sargent to get a good chunk of minutes too, while Jesus Ferreira is the other option up top but maybe we could see Pulisic or Reyna playing up there as a false nine at some point of the game?

Saudi Arabia vs USMNT, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream

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Fair or not, Tuesday’s edition of Saudi Arabia vs USMNT is going to be scrutinized as much as any friendly in recent United States men’s national team history.

[ MORE: Projected starting XI vs Saudi Arabia ]

Gregg Berhalter’s men looked like sloppy at best and rudderless at worst in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in Dusseldorf and that’s incredibly alarming with the Yanks on the precipice of their World Cup return, a time when teams are usually questioning the fine-tuning rather than, well, a whooooooooole lot.

Let’s be very fair to Berhalter, who has a young team and has overseen some memorable and downright awesome triumphs in CONCACAF: There are injuries right now — Christian Pulisic was rested with a knock on Friday — and the coach does not have access to Timothy Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Chris Richards.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA | Player ratings ]

But his judgment is being questioned with Fulham captain Tim Ream, Union Berlin center forward Jordan Pefok, and Benfica back John Brooks healthy and ready to contribute but sitting at home. Berhalter has questioned their fits in the system and also said something nebulous about the team not expressing its “personality” versus Japan and that sounds pretty bad when the system looks awful.

That’s why a big performance against a solid and stubborn Saudi Arabia, a team in theory selected for its similarities to World Cup group stage foe Iran, can really provide a ubiquitous lift to spirits in the world of U.S. Soccer. And while Berhalter might claim that lift is only needed amongst the fans, he’d be kidding himself.

Remember: While the entirety of U.S. Soccer wants the side to go deep in Qatar, this is supposed to be setting the stage for a real challenge for the trophy on home soil in 4.5 years. At the moment, that sounds silly. A year-and-a-half ago, late in the night against Mexico, it did not. Fixing that would be a good first step, and Tuesday’s the next chance.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Tuesday, September 27
Kick off time: 2pm ET
Where: Estadio Nuevo Condomina, Murcia, Spain
How to watch: FS1, UnimasTUDN


Saudi Arabia vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be the seventh meeting between the Yanks and Green Falcons, but the first since 1999 against a national team representing political issues for the United States. Saudi Arabia won two of the first four but the Yanks claimed home soil wins in a 1995 friendly and the 1999 Confederations Cup. All of the on-field mentions above mean absolutely nothing for Tuesday but they are fun to note on a pre-match preview (Upside-down smile face emoji).


The lowdown on Saudi Arabia

This is a very Saudi Arabia experienced side, one that went 13W-4D-1L in World Cup qualifying and have experience in a lot of 1-0 contests including recent Spain-based friendly losses to Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where it played those matches and where it had a scoreless tangle with Ecuador four days prior to this tilt. Ecuador outshot the Saudis 11-5 and had 60 percent of the ball but all that will get you an argument that you deserved better than a solitary point that comes from a real match. If you want to see your Yanks break down a sound team, Tuesday’s a good chance.


USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

This is easily the most interesting lineup in some time for the USMNT after Berhalter gave starting looks to some of his lynchpins and got a mixed bag of results, none of which were exceptional aside from goalkeeper Matt Turner (and even he was not at his best in possession on an admittedly poor pitch in Dusseldorf) and Brenden Aaronson if we’re being judicious in the name of optimism. But really, all of the front three were ghosts. Much of is down to the eight men behind them, though, and forgiving glances can be cast at Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna. Jesus Ferreira is not included after missing a chance that would and could be called a sitter if he didn’t have to jump to head it (We kid, but it’s dark humor).

Aaron Long was very poor and Walker Zimmerman uncharacteristically poor next to him, while youngster Sam Vines had a rough first half before Berhalter adjusted his usage from left back to left wing back with emphasis on the wing part. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are often the heartbeat of this team but both looked a mix of cavalier and junior varsity. That won’t happen often, and very rarely will occur at the same time.

Here’s what to watch from Berhalter’s lineup choices, presuming he doesn’t change his formation.

  • If Matt Turner starts — and then stays healthy and relatively blunder-free at Arsenal — forget about anyone else starting the World Cup opener in Qatar. If it’s Ethan Horvath or presumed No. 3 Sean Johnson, well, anything’s possible.
  • We’ll see Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but will it be Luca de la Torre completing the midfield trio? Will Kellyn Acosta or Johnny Cardoso arrive to move McKennie into a different role? Will Malik Tillman get his chance to start? Or will Giovanni Reyna be played in position (please?)?
  • Ricardo Pepi: The way Josh Sargent was plugged into the front three in the second half, it seems like FC Dallas star Ferreira and alum Pepi were meant to trade starts.
  • Christian Pulisic will start on the wing. How does he look, both in form and body language?
  • Sergino Dest and Sam Vines were the fullbacks versus Japan, with Reggie Cannon coming off the bench. Will it be Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin to start? Will Dest swap to left back? Antonee Robinson and Dest are the favorites to start in Qatar, but is the latter’s spot on the right now in question?
  • Much of U.S. Soccer, us included, considered this break to be a bunch of center backs bidding to play next to Walker Zimmerman in Qatar. Will it be Zimmerman plus one on Tuesday or something else?