In its first season, Atlanta United has already gathered a large following. The expansion MLS team, already nearly four months into its maiden season, has sold out every home game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, a 55,000-seat monster that also hosts the Georgia Tech football team.
That enthusiasm for the team has carried up I-75 to Bartow County, where a solid fan community has grown.
“We’ve been to all the home games except for one,” said Brandon Grinage, a Cartersville resident. “It’s interesting, I just became completely immersed in it and I love the game and just really enjoy it, so when tickets went on sale I got season tickets for me and my two boys.”
Grinage fell in love with soccer after two of his friends introduced him to the game just a short year-and-a-half ago, and he quickly caught the bug.
On Wednesday, Grinage brought his entire family out to watch as United played Charleston Battery at Kennesaw’s Fifth Third Stadium in the U.S. Open Cup.
In the heat and humidity an hour before kickoff, Grinage and his family—wife Melissa, daughter Morgan and sons Cy and Colin—gathered behind one of the goals in the supporter’s section, where the rowdiest crowd chants, sings and cheers the team on.
“I like all the enthusiasm of the fans,” Colin Grinage, 12, said.
Halfway around the stadium, two other Cartersville families were making their first trip to an Atlanta United game.
The Sklbas—Cindy, Dayvyd, son Eryk and daughter Haley—and the Weightmans—Mike, Bethany and daughters Reagan and Maddie—got into the game when their kids started playing youth rec league soccer.
All three of the girls play, as did Eryk for six years.
“They’ve all been playing,” Cindy Sklba said. “Mine has been playing since she was three, [Reagan and Maddie since] three or four, so they’ve all moved up through the ages.”
With United playing in Kennesaw, Wednesday was the perfect time for the families to get their first experience with the local team.
Previously, they had attended Kennesaw State women’s games, and the Weightmans even took a trip to the Women’s World Cup a few years back, but having a local MLS team is on another level.
“To have a team to root for, it’s been great,” Bethany Weightman said. “We’ve loved it, we are hopefully, in the next season or two depending on [the kids’] soccer schedules, going to make it to a whole bunch of games.”
The Bartow County presence at the game didn’t just extend to the fans in the stands.
As the skies darkened and the game Wednesday was put under a lightning delay, Michael Collier marched around the stadium, leading the supporter’s groups in chants, weather be damned.
Collier, who graduated from Cass High, is the music director for Terminus Legion, the first official supporter’s group of Atlanta United.
Collier, who still lives in Cartersville, played rec soccer growing up in Bartow, marched in the band at Georgia Tech, and joined Terminus Legion two years ago when the team was announced.
At that time, the only Atlanta team to support was the now-defunct Silverbacks, and Collier started bringing his trombone and drums to their games, where Terminus Legion would have maybe 30 members for every game.
It was quite a different feeling staring out at hundreds of supporters during United’s first game in March.
“It was really unnerving, but it was a lot of fun,” Collier said. “I knew there was so much hype around the team, I knew it was going to be crazy, but how crazy, it still blows my mind every week that I go to a game and see a sold-out crowd at Bobby Dodd every week, and people trying to find tickets months in advance so they can get in. It’s a crazy time.”
As a capo for Terminus Legion, Collier is responsible for that craziness.
He spends most of his time at United games facing away from the action, starting chants and driving the fans on to madness.
As someone who’s been around since the very beginning, Collier is hopeful that United will continue to draw the fans and build a community.
The team has started off well enough, playing an exciting brand of attacking soccer and getting off to one of the best starts by an expansion team in league history.
“I knew that they were going to be getting quality players. I knew we’d be competitive in the first year, and then to come out in the first game, to lose to last year’s No. 1 team overall by only one goal, in your very first game, that put a lot more hype around the team,” said Collier, referencing a 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls in the team’s first-ever game.
Regardless of whether they’re die-hards like Collier, regulars like the Grinages or first-timers like Cindy Sklba and Co., Bartow County residents have definitely noticed the hype.
“I was taking my son over to somebody’s house the other day, to his friend’s house, and there was an Atlanta United flag,” Brandon Grinage said. “I’ve seen plenty of cars driving by with stickers or flags on there, so yeah, there’s definitely growing support.”