Is MLS Atlanta doomed for similar fate as Montreal?


As we approach the beginning of the 20th season of the MLS (kicking off in early March 2015), we come closer and closer to the official beginning of Atlanta’s MLS team, announced last spring. And, while plenty of questions still surround the team (name, uniform, coaching staff, etc), there hasn’t been a whole lot of worry about the support the club will get from the city.

An MLS team in the city is something Atlanta-soccer die-hards have been waiting for since the league was founded, and with the Arthur Blank & Falcons connection, getting an audience to come to the New Atlanta Stadium to see games in 2017 wont be a problem.

But, what about in 2018? Or 2019? 2020? So on and so forth.

For a possible answer, we head north of the border to the Montreal Impact, who’s owner came out earlier today and was a bit too honest about some recent struggles the Impact have had in drawing attendance.

"The disappointment is thinking we’d be more relevant in the city after three years. Either we missed the boat [in its promotional efforts] or we missed the boat totally in thinking this was a soccer market. When you look a it, maybe we’re not the soccer market we thought we were. If it means we have to work harder, we’ll work harder. But I won’t hide my disappointment with where we are in the overall sports landscape of Montreal.– Montreal Impact FC owner Joey Saputo"

Montreal, while they did lose the Expos, is a great sports town (that probably doesn’t get enough credit since it isn’t a U.S. city). Their love for the Canadiens is unparalleled, they support the Alouettes (CFL) and have a lot of hindsight support for the Expos, and many are wondering if the MLB will return to the city.

If you click on the link earlier and read the whole article, the most troubling thing about it all is the Impact were a very well supported club when they were in the USL-PRO level of North American soccer. However, lets look at their records since entering the MLS:

  • 2012: 12-16-6 (7th in the East, 12th in MLS, DNQ for playoffs)
  • 2013: 14-12-8 (5th in the East, 11th in MLS, made playoffs)
  • 2014: 6-18-10 (10th in the East, 19th in MLS, DNQ)

To put it bluntly, the Impact were bottom-feeders last year. But, points aside, the Impact are having struggles on the field, relating to the struggles in the stands. Something Atlanta does nearly by the book.

However, where Atlanta differs from Montreal, and one of the reasons I don’t think MLS Atlanta is in any real danger, is because we have no pre-MLS history to compare this team to. The Impact were dominant in their lower-tiered history, finishing in first place seven times, two league championships, and winning every Voyageurs Cup from 2002-2008 (the best pro-soccer team in Canada) and they never finished lower than 7th in the standings, and they only reached that mark twice – their first year of existence (1993) and their last year before moving to MLS in 2011.

There’s no doubt in my mind the Atlanta MLS team will be treated just like every other – Braves, Hawks, Falcons and (RIP) Thrashers – when they win, people will show up. When they lose, it’ll be a bit sparse. But, Blank is a smart man, and I don’t think he’d bring in a team that’s destined to fail before they even kick off.

Who knows? Maybe the Phoenix (yes, I’m still hoping that’s their name) and the Impact can play the “Low Attendance Derby” year in and year out.