Atlanta’s love of soccer rewarded with 2018 MLS All-Star game

Atlanta’s affection for soccer received another bump on top of Atlanta United’s success with Monday’s announcement that the city, the team and Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the 2018 MLS All-Star game.

“I don’t think we have to worry about selling out the stadium for the All-Star game,” Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank said. “Our Atlanta United franchise has done an incredible job supporting the fan base. 

“To set all of these records in its first year is great tribute to this great city, a great tribute to the sport, a great tribute to our fans. … I want to thank all of Atlanta and all of our fans for our great success this year.”

Most of the details of the All-Star game, which is also a week of free concerts, soccer-related events as well as the game, haven’t been decided. The game will be played within a two-week window encompassing the last week of July and first week of August. 

The opponent, which league commissioner Don Garber said they hope to announce within the next two months, also hasn’t been determined but discussions are ongoing. In the past, the MLS All-Stars have hosted notable clubs Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, among others. Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino, who will manage the MLS All-Stars, said he would like to see his old club, Newell’s Old Boys, be the competition.

Once the opponent is determined, tickets will go on sale. 

The game will be played on the artificial turf of Mercedes-Benz. 

The International Plaza will host the festivals. 

The site of the Homegrown Game, which features the best academy products from the league’s teams, against the products of another club, has yet to decided though venues are being considered. Atlanta United’s Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin were on the team that played to a draw against Chivas at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. during the All-Star week in Chicago in August.

The game will be another in a series of important sports events at Mercedes-Benz that includes the college football national championship game in 2018, Super Bowl in 2019 and the college basketball Final Four in 2020. 

“Atlanta is built to host major sports events,” Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso said.

The announcement of the All-Star game came a day after Atlanta United sold an MLS-record 71,874 tickets for Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Toronto. The team will open the upper deck of the stadium for Thursday’s playoff game against Columbus. Atlanta United President Darren Eales said they will again hope to set an attendance record.

Monday’s festivities started with a video montage of different moments in Atlanta United’s eight-game history in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, followed by different moments from past MLS All-Star games.

The speakers included ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, Garber, Blank, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, Corso and Target vice president of marketing William White, an Atlanta native.

Each referenced how impressed they were with Atlanta’s growing interest in soccer.

“Launch of this team is the most impressive expansion team launch in the history of professional sports,” Garber said. “It’s a testament to Blank’s vision and leadership, as well as that of Eales, Martino and (Carlos) Bocanegra.

“I want to thank all of you from everyone in Major League Soccer.”

Atlanta United was one of four cities under consideration to host, according to Garber. The selection of Atlanta, whose franchise agreement with the league included a clause to host the All-Star game, happened within the past few weeks.

A group of approximately 30 Atlanta United employees went to Chicago to observe the different facets of year’s All-Star week, Eales said. He said the decision to push to host the game accelerated with the growing success of Atlanta United in the stands. The team led MLS in average attendance (48,200) and total ticket sales (more than 800,000).

“I think Atlanta is one of the top cities in the world in terms of sporting cities and the capabilities,” Eales said. “We saw the All-Star game as a real chance to not just only focus on the game itself but on the events itself and make it a real week of celebration.”

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