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Atlanta awarded new MLS soccer franchise

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed (left), MLS commissioner Don Garber (second from left), Falcons owner Arthur Blank (second from right), and Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe pose with soccer balls following the announcement of an MLS expansion team in Atlanta at Ventanas. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed (left), MLS commissioner Don Garber (second from left), Falcons owner Arthur Blank (second from right), and Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe pose with soccer balls following the announcement of an MLS expansion team in Atlanta at Ventanas. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

ATLANTA — Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and Falcons owner Arthur Blank unveiled Atlanta’s new professional soccer team Wednesday evening, thrilling the city’s ardent supporters of the sport.

The Atlanta franchise will begin play in the league in 2017.

“We are thrilled to welcome Atlanta to Major League Soccer as our 22nd team,” Garber said. “Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture. And with Arthur Blank joining our ownership group, we are adding one of the most respected owners in professional sports.”

The team, whose name and colors will be determined later after input from fans, will play in the new 65,000-seat Falcons stadium that will be built next to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, though the configuration for MLS games will likely see capacity in the 25,000 to 30,000 range.

“We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta,” said Blank, who will own the new franchise. “We are going to build a first-class organization on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come.”

Fans, media and distinguished guests, including Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, former MLS player and international star Alexi Lalas, packed Ventanas downtown Wednesday, and the Terminus Legion supporters group was cheering and banging drums before the announcement even began.

Numerous players and coaches from around Atlanta have experience in the league and on the men’s national team, including Parkview grad Josh Wolff and Brookwood grad Sean Johnson.

“It’s a great opportunity that has been a long time coming,” said Wolff, now a coach with the Columbus Crew, in a news release. “Being from Atlanta, I am really excited. I think (the new team) will have a tremendous impact.”

Johnson, who is a goalkeeper with the Chicago Fire, also shared his enthusiasm for the new Atlanta club.

“I think it’s fantastic that MLS is expanding to Atlanta,” Johnson said. “It’s a great city, a great market and a great opportunity. I don’t think there is a better place to expand.”

For more information, visit www.mlsatlanta2017.com or follow @MLSAtlanta2017 on Twitter.