Gwinnett’s new professional soccer team will look very much like its parent club.
Atlanta United 2 was unveiled as the United Soccer League club’s name Tuesday afternoon, staying true to the brand built down Interstate 85 by Arthur Blank’s other franchise, Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United. Atlanta United will own and operate ATL UTD 2, the shortened form of the team’s name.
The club will play its inaugural season at Coolray Field — home of the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A baseball team, the Gwinnett Stripers — beginning in March. Its colors are red, black and gold, just like the MLS squad in Atlanta.
“There are a lot of different directions you can go when naming a team,” said Catie Griggs, Atlanta United’s vice president of business operations. “Looking at this one, we looked at other MLS clubs who have USL clubs and many do stick with a 2 or B moniker (for their USL team). For us, it fits because looking at the whole organization, we’re a part of one club. … From the youth in the academy system to the guy playing on the first team, we are all part of the Atlanta United team.”
Atlanta United 2’s logo also falls in line with the parent club’s logo, though the signature A is replaced by 2. It is split by a golden spike, a special part of Atlanta United game experiences.
“We’re staying relatively consistent with the look and the feel of the first team,” Griggs said. “A lot of red, black and gold.”
Gwinnett’s team replaces Atlanta United’s previous affiliation with the USL’s Charleston (S.C.) Battery. The USL expansion team serves as both a developmental tool and an option for first team players to continue to play while on loan. The USL included 30 markets in 20 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in the 2017 season. The Gwinnett-based expansion team joins Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Nashville SC as teams set to debut during the 2018 season. It will train, as the MLS players do, in Marietta at team headquarters.
“ATL UTD 2 is the fundamental link in our club’s vertical integration, connecting our Academy teams to our first team,” Atlanta United vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “This team gives us a chance to challenge academy players at the professional level while also giving our first team players an opportunity to stay match fit and when returning from injury. This team will be a blend of local talent and seasoned pros.”
Pro soccer took off in the city last season when Atlanta United broke Major League Soccer attendance records, attracting more than 800,000 fans in the 2017 season and a record 71,874 fans in the final regular season match against Toronto FC. Atlanta set an MLS playoff attendance record of 67,221 fans in its match against the Columbus Crew.
Atlanta United 2 hopes for similar success, on a smaller scale, at games in Lawrenceville.
“I think they’re different,” Griggs said of comparing the MLS and USL clubs. “I don’t say that different good or different bad. It’s a different stadium, so 10,000 (seats) at Coolray vs. 72 or 70 at MBS, depending on the game. From a family atmosphere standpoint, we’re very excited about the degree of intimacy a smaller stadium offers. I think it will be a slightly different experience. But from a fan experience and soccer standpoint, it should be very similar.”
The USL, one of the world’s most prominent Division II leagues, drew more than two million fans to matches in 2017. Two clubs averaged five figures in attendance this year — FC Cincinnati’s 21,199 and Sacramento Republic FC’s 11,569 — and the league’s average attendance as a whole jumped 25.7 percent from 2016. Coolray Field seats 10,427 fans for soccer, the same as it does for baseball.
Soccer is a big part of the Gwinnett community with a group of successful youth clubs, as well as high school teams that have won the last six, and seven of the last nine, state championships in Georgia’s biggest high school classification.
“We have an established fan base in Gwinnett County who are attending our matches,” Griggs said. “We’re excited to be much more deeply entrenched in that area.”
Griggs said a third party, not affiliated with Atlanta United or the Gwinnett Stripers, will handle the field conversion process between baseball and soccer. Game operations will be the responsibility of a hybrid team of United and Stripers personnel.
Information on Atlanta United 2 tickets will be available soon, pending the release of the USL schedule. Announcements also are forthcoming on a coaching staff and roster of players. More information on the club and ticket information is available at atlutd.com/2.
“It will serve us well to have a place where young players can play consistently, especially those who are working hard in training but aren’t seeing many minutes on the field during matches with the first team,” Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino said. “ATL UTD 2 will give them an opportunity to compete at a high level, continue to grow as players and use USL matches as a means to fight for positions in the first team.”
The addition of Atlanta United’s USL club expands Gwinnett’s professional sports count to five organizations — the Stripers, Atlanta Gladiators, Georgia Swarm and Atlanta Havoc.