Atlanta, Georgia is one of the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, with a population nearing 6 million residents. The Atlanta Silverbacks provided the area with pro soccer for many years, but dropped out of the NASL after the 2015 season (the name lives on in the NPSL). Atlanta United FC will debut in MLS in 2017, sharing Mercedes Benz Stadium with their sister organization, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Midfield Press was able to connect with Trey Brantley, one of the partners in a group looking to bring NASL and NWSL franchises to the eastern Atlanta market.
The city of Atlanta is in two counties, Fulton County and DeKalb County. DeKalb County in particular is a hub of youth soccer activity. Brantley and Southfund Partners are working with several government entities, local businesses and soccer groups to build a large sports complex that will include two stadiums, a smaller stadium with bleachers and turf as well as a larger one with a grass field and individual seating. There is no truth to reports that the teams could be based in Cobb County as they are committed to DeKalb and have support from local leaders there.
The sports complex would include soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, other youth sports activities as well as restaurants. Working with local leaders in the County and Georgia youth soccer, Brantley’s group will aim to host over 40 youth tournaments at the complex per year. The professional teams would serve as the crown jewel of the complex, offering nearby entertainment to those in the eastern Atlanta metro market who don’t want to commute downtown to the see the MLS team, as well as to the families attending the youth tournaments.
Like pretty much every NASL expansion bid, the Atlanta plans are contingent on the survival of the league, but the group is committed to bringing men’s and women’s pro soccer teams to the complex regardless of league. The timetable for potentially joining the NASL is not currently firmed up, but should be clearer in the near future. The smaller stadium on the complex could be ready as early as Fall of 2017, while the larger stadium would not be ready until 2019.
The name of the teams are still under consideration. As far as the men’s team goes, Brantley confirmed that they have considered using the classic NASL brand the Atlanta Chiefs, and have consulted a prominent civil rights group about the use of the name. The appeal of the Chiefs is due to the original NASL club’s history as the first top level pro sports team to bring a championship to Atlanta. The Atlanta Silverbacks name is not currently under consideration, as it is owned by another organization. Several other names are also under consideration. The Atlanta Vibe is one of the names under consideration for the women’s team.
Brantley is confident that his well-funded effort can be a success in DeKalb County, regardless of the presence of Atlanta United in MLS. “I have a lot of respect for the Atlanta United guys and I think they are doing a lot of things the right way. I don’t see what we are doing as competitive with them. If someone wants to watch an MLS match, they will travel downtown to do that. We are offering a local pro soccer alternative to the eastern Atlanta area in a high quality, intimate setting along with world class youth soccer facilities that will serve to develop the game here in Georgia.”
What happens next for Brantley’s group will depend on the outcome of the USSF’s sanctioning decisions related to NASL and USL, and what the fallout of that means for NASL. Brantley is excited about the North American Soccer League and its model, but the commitment of his group to this extends beyond the existence of any one league.