ATLANTA — The Major League Soccer single-game attendance record has been broken by a team in its first season.
Atlanta United attracted 70,425 to the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Orlando City. It was the best attended domestic game in the United States since the New York Cosmos sold over 77,000 tickets for a North American Soccer League playoff game at Giants Stadium in 1977.
“It’s incredible,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “I think it says that there are really no limits. We never really expected this to happen.”
The attendance broke the previous MLS mark of 69,225 set at the Rose Bowl by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996.
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank told Garber that soccer would be a big draw in Atlanta, a city known mostly for its affinity for college football, the Falcons and Braves. Garber took a wait-and-see approach, but he started being convinced when United played before sellout crowds earlier this year at Georgia Tech while Mercedes-Benz had construction delays.
“We’ve been in the soccer business for a long time and we’re continuing to have experiences like this that are defying everyone’s expectations and my expectations,” Garber said. “When I look at all this, I want to remind myself to suck it in, take a deep breath and remember that this is a beginning for even greater things to happen in our league.”
For Jonathan Rivera, who grew up in Spain and moved to Atlanta 20 years ago, United’s draw with Orlando City took no luster off the big day.
Rivera, 38, was hoarse from yelling in the supporters’ section. He arrived to tailgate at 9 a.m., walked into the stadium about an hour before the match and spent the first half bouncing around on the front row of the lower level.
“This is one of the best things to happen to Atlanta,” he said. “I’ve been here for a long time and I plan to be here for a long time. I’ve got season tickets for the Falcons, but you never see people happy like this. If the Falcons don’t win tomorrow, you won’t see very many people smiling.”
Part of Saturday’s appeal was getting a chance for a first-time experience at the stadium — even if that meant sitting in the top row of the upper level.
Regina Montgomery, 58, of Atlanta, doesn’t describe herself as a soccer fan, but she climbed 56 steps up to her corner perch in section 334 so she could take in the atmosphere from the nose bleeds. She’s been a Falcons season-ticket holder for 16 years and will be much closer to the action…