I’ve always struggled to get behind MLS. I’ve stumbled upon the occasional MLS Cup, but two teams huffing and puffing down the field wasn’t my thing. The games lacked flavor and creativity. And because I wasn’t living in an MLS city, I had a hard time engaging with with the League and wondered if I’d ever be a fan.But something’s brewing in MLS, and my new hometown team is leading the next rebrand of American professional soccer.
There are 22 MLS teams and 20 unique LaCroix flavors. Let’s say Orlando City is the Passionfruit flavor of MLS and Real Salt Lake is Coconut. Then Atlanta United FC is the League’s Lime flavor. LaCroix Lime stands out in a crowd of bland sparkling beverages. It’s the perfect mix of fizz, flavor and simplicity. It’s not trying too hard to impress you, but you’re definitely impressed.Embed from Getty Images
In their short existence as a professional soccer club, Atlanta United has quickly become the Five-Striped unicorn in a league that’s long been mired in a sea of sameness. They’ve reimagined the term “expansion team” and squashed the original DP model. They’ve made believers out of nonbelievers and turned fans into fanatics. They’re “a must-watch”, “exciting”, “attacking”, “young”, “MLS 3.0”. All this despite some very human performances in their inaugural season. They’ve made a killer first impression.
Atlanta United have a world-class manager in Tata Martino, a billionaire owner in Arthur Blank that wants to win right away and legit players at every position. They’ve built an MLS-version of Valdebebas in Marietta, Georgia and under the close eye of Academy Director Tony Annan, the club is taking a La Masia-approach to how they develop their youth players. All that plus a brand new stadium in downtown Atlanta. LAFC, the 2018 MLS new kids, will undoubtedly imitate the Southern club’s brash philosophy. It’ll be the ultimate form of flattery.Embed from Getty Images
So, what do Atlanta United and MLS have to do with sparkling water? Fans of LaCroix (I include myself here) will admit that their loyalty to the brand goes beyond taste and cool-looking cans. It’s a trendy brand, but it’s also the alternative to mainstream sugary sodas that the masses flock to.
MLS fans and the new scarf-wearing MLS hipsters can admit that their loyalty to club isn’t dependent on style of play, trophies or star players. Those are all nice-to-haves. MLS fandom stems from a love of city and community, the social clout of being a founding member or season ticket holder, and the close relationship between ownership and fans. In year one, Atlanta United is checking all the boxes.
The hype is real. Atlanta United is single-handedly changing MLS. And it’s refreshing, like a nice, cold LaCroix Lime.