Atlanta is a soccer town 50 years in the making

And it all started with a Braves executive
Dick Cecil
Dick Cecil

Photograph by Keystone/Getty

Dick Cecil, a Braves executive, lobbies for professional soccer in Atlanta. He helps form the National Professional Soccer League and a team called the Chiefs, coached by former English player Phil Woosnam.

The Chiefs
The Chiefs

Photograph by Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

The Chiefs are crowned the first champions of the North American Soccer League after the merger of the NPSL and the United Soccer Association. They also defeat prominent English club Manchester City twice in exhibition games in Atlanta that each draw more than 20,000 fans. Woosnam leaves the Chiefs to become NASL commissioner.

The Chiefs, now renamed the Apollos, cease operations in the NASL after a 3-7-9 season, their worst in Atlanta, as home attendance averages barely above 3,000.

The Chiefs are resurrected when Ted Turner, Dick Cecil, and Al Thornwell become owners of a relocated NASL franchise. The Chiefs last three seasons.

Numerous Atlanta teams—including the Georgia Generals and Atlanta Attack—compete in various independent and indoor professional soccer leagues throughout the decade.

The Atlanta Ruckus is formed by South African businessman Johnny Imerman. After he leaves the team, a new owner operates the NASL franchise for two more years.

Atlanta Olympics soccer
Atlanta Olympics

Photograph by David Cannon/Getty

Soccer brings record crowds during the Atlanta Olympic Games, with about 90,000 fans on hand at Sanford Stadium in Athens for the men’s and women’s gold medal matches.

The former Ruckus franchise is acquired by two Atlanta business owners who rename the team the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Atlanta Beat
Atlanta Beat

Photograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty

The professional Women’s United Soccer Association is born. The Atlanta Beat, operated by Cox Enterprises, reaches the league title game before losing to San Jose.

The Beat reach the WUSA finals again, losing to Washington. Shortly before the 2003 Women’s World Cup, the eight-team league folds.

The Atlanta Silverbacks field a women’s team—the Atlanta Silverbacks Women—in the United Soccer League’s developmental circuit. The team competes there until 2015, then switches the following year to the then-second-tier professional Women’s Premier Soccer League.

Atlanta World Challenge
Atlanta World Challenge

Photograph by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Georgia Dome becomes a soccer venue, hosting a friendly match between Mexico and Venezuela. The Atlanta World Challenge between Italy’s AC Milan and Club America of Mexico draws more than 50,000 fans. Similar events are staged in Atlanta in 2010 and during the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup tournaments.

The Atlanta Beat is reborn as a member of the Women’s Professional Soccer League and plays at Kennesaw State University for two seasons, until the league folds in 2012.

Atlanta Silverbacks
Atlanta Silverbacks

Photograph by Icon Sportswire via AP Images

The Silverbacks win the NASL’s spring season title but fall to the New York Cosmos in the overall league championships.

Darren Eales
Darren Eales

Photograph by Kelly Kline

Major League Soccer announces an expansion franchise for Atlanta, owned by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, which will play starting in 2017 at the new Mercedes-Benz stadium downtown. Darren Eales, a former professional player in the U.S. A-League, is named club president.

In July the Atlanta MLS franchise announces it will be called Atlanta United FC.

Alexander Tambakis
Alexander Tambakis

Photograph courtesy of Atlanta United

The Silverbacks are suspended by the NASL for the 2016 season. A new ownership group comes on board and takes the club to the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League for the 2016 season.

In January 23-year-old goalkeeper Alexander Tambakis becomes the first player for Atlanta United FC, which signs him away from Greek Club Panathinaikos.

In September Gerardo “Tata” Martino, former manager of La Liga’s FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team, is named Atlanta United’s head coach.

Atlanta United played its first home game on March 5 against the New York Red Bulls in Bobby Dodd Stadium. The first game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is set for July 30.

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.