Our City is a weekly column dedicated to taking a wide-angled lens to the soccer culture that surrounds Orlando City and Major League Soccer.
With two games down in both of Minnesota United and Atlanta United FC’s inaugural Major League Soccer seasons (after today), I thought it might be time to say hello. If anyone knows what you both will go through in this first campaign it is those of us in Orlando.
Welcome to the league, and I’m honestly glad both of you are here. I think each club adds something truly unique to the league. I’ve long enjoyed watching Minnesota United’s supporter culture from afar and think MLS is going to be a great fit for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. My interest in Atlanta is a little more personal, having spent time there in my youth watching the likes of the Atlanta Chiefs and Georgia Generals play. I’m excited to see soccer back in Atlanta and look forward to many trips back to the area for away games.
First things first, and you might have already picked up on this, MLS feels like the most insane and emotionally brutal league in the world for a fan. Or at least after a loss it can feel like that. The parity system that dominates the league means that any team on any night can win (or heart-crushingly lose or draw) in dramatic fashion. Some days that works out in your favor, some nights you go home wondering how that all unraveled so fast.
Atlanta has come into the league as the darlings of pundits. Rightfully so, as they’ve put together a fun team with a lot of talent. Playoffs and even MLS Cup feel oddly in reach for a team that didn’t exist beyond a color combination and a badge last year. These preseason predictions reminded me of Orlando City’s first Media Day when Kaká told the gathered press that he thought Orlando City could win MLS Cup in its first season. While no one, including his coach Adrian Heath, honestly believed him, but it did set expectations high. As good as things felt in Orlando’s preseason, the reality of MLS soon hit out at the club and tempered expectations.
Atlanta has those same expectations now and I think that puts unnecessary pressure on the team and expectations from the supporters.
On the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota United has been tapped to struggle in its first season. With no big names filling out the roster, the soccer media have been quick to dismiss the Loons. The addition of Orlando City icons Adrian Heath as manager and Kevin Molino in the midfield, along with a core of players from the NASL, including Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez, means this team has the weapons to compete.
I know Heath would never admit this, but I always felt he struggled to incorporate players like Kaká and Brek Shea, and would have preferred a team of no-names who wanted to fight every night. He gets that chance in Minnesota, and I think he will be more successful with a team of blue-collar players who play with a chip on their shoulder. The lowered expectations will fit the Heath locker room narrative perfectly and may inspire the club to more wins than predicted.
Despite preseason predictions, I don’t see Atlanta being as good or Minnesota bad as predicted.
What happens on the field is somewhat secondary though. This season, for you the supporters and fans, is a celebration. This first year for both clubs should be an absolute party in the stands — a chance to either build off a great supporter tradition in Minnesota or build a new one in Atlanta. Both clubs have done well selling tickets and both will challenge Seattle for the all-important attendance statistic that U.S. soccer fans follow closer than scores some weeks. For all the league’s challenges — there are many and you will get to know them all relatively quickly — it is a fun league.
While I know the fans of both clubs will soon begin to live and die by unjustified Ted Unkel red cards and bizarre new transfer rules that seem to always benefit the LA Galaxy, your respective teams will enjoy their small successes this season. There will be long stretches where you will question your own sanity for having marched to the match with any expectation of something besides “I hope we don’t lose.” Don’t let any of those thoughts ruin the beauty that is your team’s only first season in Major League Soccer.
Soak in the chants, the passion, and the time with your friends and family. Try to capture the tension of being up 1-0 in the 90th minute as your team holds onto a lead. All of it will be over before you know it.
I wish the supporters and teams in Minnesota and Atlanta the best of luck this season, and hope you both lose to Orlando City on the way to great first campaigns! I know I’ll enjoy watching from afar, down here in the Soccer Capital of the South!
What do you think? How do you think the campaigns will go for both of the new MLS clubs? Have I been too kind to Minnesota or too harsh to Atlanta? Do you have any advice to share from Orlando’s first MLS season that you want to share? Reach out on Twitter: @KevinIsHistory or comment below. See you in the stands!