Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann, a native of Decatur, wrote the following essay about his experiences playing in his hometown during the Five Stripes’ inaugural season. Kann , 27, started 18 games for the team last season in his first significant playing time in MLS.
When I stepped out under the lights, I looked up into the stands and felt the roar of 55,000 raucous fans. It was a lot to take in.
I thought back to the 12-hour bus rides through the night to play in Harrisburg, Rochester and Dayton in front of a couple hundred people on converted football and baseball fields … times when I wondered if this was going to be the story of my career, or lack thereof.
But here I was – with the opportunity to play in the city that made me, in front of friends and family who always told me to keep going.
We lost the game, but seeing the look on my parents’ and my brothers’ faces in the players lounge afterward was worth all of the sleepless and tearful nights, all of the late night runs and gym sessions, all of the surgeries and rehabilitation. There is something special about playing for your hometown. Now, the brightest young soccer players in the city can aspire to don the Five Stripes.
Enough about me, though. This is about our city. When I heard MLS was adding an expansion franchise in Atlanta, I will admit I had some doubts as to whether or not it would be successful. The youth soccer scene has always been vibrant, but Atlanta has a bad rap as a sports town (wrongly, I might add). I was worried that an MLS franchise could go the way of the Thrashers …but I could not have been more wrong.
In my opinion, the reason the city has embraced this team in the way that it has is that Atlanta is a city of transplants. Like many of you, my parents weren’t born here. They came to Atlanta with allegiances to other NFL, MLB and NBA teams. But MLS is a relative newcomer compared to those leagues, and many first and second generation Atlantans didn’t grow up with a connection to professional soccer. Whether you’ve just moved here or have lived here your whole life, Atlanta United is something we can all take ownership of.
When I drive through the city, it seems that just about every other house has an Atlanta United flag waving from its front porch. But what means the most to me are the countless kids who have come up to me at soccer clinics and in the grocery store and everywhere in between to tell me that I am their hero. And to each one of you I say: if anyone ever tells you that you can’t achieve your dreams, just look at me. If I can make it to this level with a lot of hard work and stubbornness and good fortune along the way, then you can too.
As I write this after another grueling training session, season two is almost here. At this time, we are not an expansion team. We have all of the tools that we need to succeed – from world-class players and facilities to a front office staff dedicated to winning. The time for excuses has come and gone. From what I’ve seen so far, this group is special and hungry.
For every person who has taken time out of their day to thank me for my contribution to this team, ask me to sign something for their kid, or buy me a drink when I am out with my friends, thank you. I think I speak for the entire team when I say that your passion is what fuels us. And hopefully we can say “thanks” again with a trophy in December.
You can follow Kann on twitter @akann90.