ATLANTA - Atlanta United defender Greg Garza says, if you're wondering why exactly pro soccer caught on so quickly in his new city, he's wondering the same thing.
"We're still asking ourselves [that question] as well," said Garza.
Garza says he'd compare the atmosphere at Sunday's home opener to playing with the United States Men's National Team at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The crowd set another record: Atlanta United announced an attendance of 72,035 fans, breaking the Major League Soccer single-game attendance record. That is the third time Atlanta United has broken that record.
"Just say thank you to everybody for coming today, for the support," said forward Josef Martinez who scored the team's first goal of the season.
Fans unfurled a banner before the game shaped like a tombstone, reading "R.I.P. BAD SPORTS TOWN," an allusion to jabs out-of-town sports fans occasionally lob at the city's fans.
Asked further why soccer has found such a fast foothold in Atlanta, Garza points to the melting pot of cultures he's found after spending a year in the city. He also said his teammates embody the same spirit. For example, after Martinez' goal, Garza jumped into a celebration with players from several countries: Martinez is from Venezuela, Hector Villabla (who had the assist on the play) is from Argentina and Miguel Almiron is from Paraguay.
"I spoke three languages in [the celebration]," said Garza. "I spoke Portuguese to Josef, Spanish to Tito [Villalba] and English to all the other English guys."
Asked what he told them, Garza said it was the same message in three languages: "good job." The fans did a good job as well, and players hope if more records are broken, they'll give the capacity crowds something to cheer about.