Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez (far right) takes a break as a prolific Major League Soccer scorer to pose with teammates in August 2017. ©Rank Studios

Terence Moore

Every week, check out Freelance Friday, featuring a rising journalist who is (ahem) a few decades younger than me. See their take on . . . whatever.

By D’Mitri Chin

Josef Martinez, the sensational striker for Atlanta United, has the hometown electrified as he breaks Major League Soccer (MLS) records in exhilarating fashion. His most recent score came last week against rival Orlando FC, and Five Stripes faithfuls have shown their gratitude by breaking marks of their own. In July, the team eclipsed its single-game attendance mark at home, when 72,243 fans witnessed Martinez score one of his many goals of the season.

The accolades surrounding Martinez and Atlanta United are undoubtedly beneficial to its city. Terrible for the club’s future, though. How? Well, in sports, fan bases tend to have a short memory regarding what the players do for the organization and how many games the team wins in a season.

They want championships!

D’Mitri Chin covered the 2017 Home Depot College Football Awards ceremony in Atlanta.

Arthur Blank’s beloved soccer team began playing for real last season, and the owner of both the Five Stripes and the Atlanta Falcons couldn’t have asked for a better start. It’s not often a professional sports team — an expansion one, specifically – becomes a title contender during each of its first two seasons. Nonetheless, I find it impossible for this club to sustain this level of success much longer. In fact, if the Five Stripes don’t win it all this year, not only will their supporters begin to vanish (as Atlanta fans often do when their teams hit a roadblock), but so will the star-studded players on the roster.

During the 2014-15 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs for an eighth-consecutive season, and they even advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The next three years, they saw their home attendance significantly decrease. The Atlanta Braves won a record 14 consecutive division titles through the 2005 season, but they struggled to sellout playoff games near the end of the run. Such apathy among Atlanta fans will occur for The Five Stripes. Ultimately, winning games will become platitudinous if it does not translate into championships.

It’s debatable whether United Atlanta should have won a championship last season, given its 15-10-9 record as a first-year franchise. Not the same this season. The Five Stripes are 16-6-4, and with much help from the best striker in the MLS, they’re an offensive machine.

Nobody has more than their 55 goals.

That’s all good news for Atlanta’s current favorite team (and, no, I’m not talking about the Falcons), but it’s also bad news, and here’s just one of the reasons why: The more the players exceed expectations and produce at a high level, the more they become attractive to the likes of dominant clubs overseas such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United, just to name a few. I’m certain Miguel Almiron and Martinez already have suitors salivating, and I can assure you that if the price is right, they will be sold to another team sooner than later.

So Atlanta fans are in a bizarre predicament. Although they want the Five Stripes to keep winning and dominating this season, they’ll eventually want them to do that one thing, which is to clutch the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

Otherwise, Atlanta United will be just another team in town.

D’Mitri Chin is a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in speech communication at Georgia State University. He is the former associate sports editor for The Signal, and he is currently a freelance sports reporter. He is also a contributor to The Douglas County Sentinel. In his spare time, D’Mitri enjoys lifting weights and playing basketball. You can follow D’Mitri on Twitter @1DMitriChin.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think you vastly misjudge the relationship United has with it’s fans. It’s not a pure transaction like you see with other pro sports. It’s far more like college athletics in the way fans identify with their team. Plus, many of those people that were showing up to Braves games in the 90’s weren’t really Braves fans. They were transplants with allegiances to out-of-market teams who lost interest the moment it was no longer novel. That’s not the case with United. They are the 1st love for soccer fans in this town, regardless of where they came from. Also, most of us got in on the ground floor, when the team was being founded, rather than just temporarily hopping on the bandwagon after a good season.

    Another similarity with college sports is the way that the top teams are able to reload when they lose talent. If we sell Almiron to Europe, that means we have an open DP slot and a warchest of money to go sign another international star. Plus, it becomes even easier to attract that type of talent if ATL proves that it can be a launching pad to Europe. We’ll never be the only ambitious or well-resourced team in the league, but we’re certainly positioned to consistently be a lot closer to the top than the bottom.

    Also, like college football once again, it’s not a championship or bust. In soccer you get to chase multiple trophies (MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League) so the success of a season isn’t judged by the achievement of only 1 result. Since UGA won the SEC and Rose Bowl last year, it will be regarded as a very satisfying season by their fans, despite the loss in the national title game. The same is true in soccer. Even if Atlanta doesn’t win the Cup this year, many Atlanta fans will still be grateful for the season and very excited for the next one. We’ll be excited to see who takes over for Almiron, to see United potentially take on a popular Mexican team like Club America, Chivas, or Tigres in the CCL tournament, to make another run at the MLS Cup, etc. You never run out of things to look forward to in this sport.

    Granted, the team will inevitably have a down season at some point, and not every year will be a new record in attendance. But soccer has proven to be more stable than you apparently realize. Most MLS teams maintain attendance averages within 10% of their peak and the sport is poised to grow in the coming years, not regress.

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