Sunday, March 19, 2017

Atlanta United FC Poised to Make U.S. Pro Sports History

Expansion teams don't tend to make the playoffs. In tracing the modern history of professional sports in the U.S., it's rare to see teams making the playoffs in their first year of existence. Winning the title as an expansion team would seem near impossible in a league of more than 20 teams (The Chicago Fire achieved the feat in 1998 with 12 teams on board in MLS). Yet, after three weeks of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, expansion pro sports franchise, Atlanta United FC, looks like a serious championship contender.

Since the most recent change to winning MLS Cup was redesigned for the 2015 season, the top six seeds from each conference get entry into the tourney. So far, a #3 seed and a #4 seed have won the championship. Atlanta just needs to make the playoffs, and their outlook is decent for winning MLS Cup.

As things sit now, Atlanta is in first place in the Eastern Conference (Orlando has yet to play its third game), with more than twice as many goals than any other team in the conference. Arguably, team goals scored is the most important statistic in pro soccer. With 11 goals, Atlanta leads the league in goals scored. Atlanta is led by top individual league scorer, Josef Martinez, an international designated player from Venezuela.

Atlanta has kick-started its career, by showing right away the kind of pep in their step fans can expect to see from game to game. It could be the story of the sports year, if it weren't for the lack of respect MLS has in the U.S. and how soccer rules are applied in guiding the sport's existence.

Besides being an afterthought to the other more mainstream pro sports in the U.S,, soccer gravitates to the notoriety in which luck and stubbornness can win out over skill and talent. Whether those at FIFA, soccer's governing body, want to admit it or not, the sport's reputation with fans is an expectation for low scoring. Generally speaking, the rules to the sport restrain many goal-scoring opportunities. The offside rule, the goalkeeper area, goalpost dimensions, the limited amount of substitutions and how time is kept are all constructed to impede goal-scoring.

All the variables are set up for a team, that can figure out how to score in its first season, to take the trophy home at the end of it. Atlanta is in the right sport at the right time to make one of modern U.S. pro sport history's biggest splashes.

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