The Birth of Professional Soccer in Atlanta
The “Godfather” of Professional Soccer (a.k.a. Football) in Atlanta was Richard “Dick” Cecil. He was intrigued with the 1966 World Cup and decided that a professional soccer team would add valuable events for Atlanta Stadium. He was Vice President of the Atlanta Braves baseball franchise, who became the owners of the first premier soccer team in Atlanta. Dick Cecil and Phil Woosnam, as coach and general manager, traveled the world, including Great Britain, France, Sweden, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, and the Caribbean countries, signed players to assemble the first Atlanta Team.
The Atlanta Soccer Clubs
Atlanta Chiefs (1967-1972)
||On August 9, 1966, Atlanta Braves, Inc., received a franchise in the newly created National Professional Soccer League, which later merged with the United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League. On January 8, 1967 the team gained its name “Chiefs” and by the end of February 1967, numerous players came to Emory University for trials.
In the beginning, it was a great time of good football and victories. Atlanta Chiefs won the 1968 NASL Soccer Bowl (championship title) and various awards. That season, the Atlanta Chiefs famously twice beat Manchester City, English Premier League Champion, in friendlies. During those two games, the largest crowd ever attended soccer games in Atlanta – Game 1: May 27, 1968, Score: 3:2, Attendance: 23,141, Game 2: June 16, 1968, Score: 2:1, Attendance: 25,856.
Interesting fact: In 1970, Kaizer Motaung, nicknamed “Chincha Guluva”, who made his debut for the Atlanta Chiefs as a substitute in a game against Manchester City, found his own club Kaizer Chiefs FC, who still plays in the South African Premier Soccer League. The Kaizer Chiefs name and logo were inspired by those of the Atlanta club. Click here to check it out!
Atlanta Apollos (1973-1979)
||In 1969, the soccer league was in trouble with ten franchises having folded. The season was split into two halves. The first half was called the International Cup, a double round tournament in which the remaining NASL clubs were represented by teams imported from the United Kingdom. The Chiefs were represented by Aston Villa. While the Chiefs were one of only a few clubs to survive that critical season, they lasted only a few more years. In 1973, the club renamed itself the Atlanta Apollos after it was sold to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks and played at Bobby Dodd Stadium (Georgia Tech) that season. The Atlanta Chiefs name and logo, however, were revived in 1979 when Cecil and Ted Turner moved their franchise to Atlanta. The team again played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for three seasons until folding after the 1981 season.|
Atlanta Chiefs (1980-1981)
Georgia Generals (1982)
Atlanta Attack (1989-1990)
In 1982, after the demise of the Atlanta Chiefs, the franchise operated in Ohio as the Cleveland Cobras, arrived to Atlanta under the ownership of Walt Russell. Former Atlanta Chiefs manager David Chadwick and several former players, including goalkeeper Graham Tutt, defender Mike Balsom, and midfielder Danny Payne, as well as Brazilian forward Jose Neto, a standout from San Diego, were hired on to the new soccer team – Georgia Generals. The team played an impressive inaugural season in the 2nd Division American Soccer League (12-9-4 record, lost in semifinal). Unfortunately, the Summer of 1982 was the only season the Georgia Generals survived…
The Atlanta Attack, a professional indoor soccer team founded in 1989, only lasted for 2 seasons until the franchise was moved to Kansas City in 1991. They played their first season (1989-1990) in the American Indoor Soccer Association (AISA), which changed it’s name for their second season (1990-91) to the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). The team’s home ground was the Omni Arena in Atlanta, which had a capacity of 15,278. They shared the arena with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
In 1990’s, several Georgian soccer clubs competed in the independent and indoor soccer leagues. The Atlanta Express (also known as Gwinnett County Steamers) and Atlanta Magic (Atlanta Datagraphic Magic, Atlanta Lasers) were the most successful. The Atlanta Magic soccer club was the Three-time Champion of the indoor USISL league. In 1993-94 season, Atlanta Magic posted the league’s record of 37 straight victories, won the Southeast Division, and the Championship Cup. In 1995, they only played two games in the USISL Pro League, and folded after the 1995/96 indoor season.
Atlanta Ruckus (1995-1998)
||The American Professional Soccer League accepted the Atlanta Magic, owned by Sam Chase, as a new franchise for the 1995 season. The owner decided to create an entirely new team, to be named the Atlanta Ruckus. Chase experienced financial difficulties, but, South African businessman Johnny Imerman quickly bought the team. The Ruckus, under former U.S. national team coach Lothar Osiander, made it to the championship series in the newly renamed A-League, only to lose to the Seattle Sounders in three games. After losing money, Imerman arranged for the league to take over team operations in June 1996. In August 1996, Vincent Lu purchased the franchise. In June 1998, the league suspended the team after Lu refused to sign a renewed franchise agreement with the league. The A-League continued to operate the team, known as the A-League Atlanta.|
Atlanta Silverbacks (1998-Current)
||In 1998 two partners Latham and Glustrom purchased the A-League Atlanta (former Atlanta Ruckus) team and in a September 1998 press conference at Zoo Atlanta, the two partners announced the team would be known as the Atlanta Silverbacks in honor of Willie B., a silverback gorilla who was a star attraction at the zoo. The team also moved to DeKalb Memorial Stadium for the 1999 season.
Despite the new ownership group, coach and stadium, the Atlanta Silverbacks continued to struggle on the field. The team went through seven coaches and missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons.
In 2013, Atlanta Silverbacks won the Spring Season Championship of NASL split season. They will host the Soccer Bowl match for the 2013 NASL Championship title against the Fall Season Champions New York Cosmos on November 9, 2013 in Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Atlanta’s first professional sports franchise championship was won by the 1968 Atlanta Chiefs of the North American Soccer League. 45 years later, Big Soccer may come back to Atlanta. The Major League Soccer (MLS) is considering Atlanta as one of its expansion cities. So the new Atlanta Falcons football stadium is being built with soccer in mind ;)
Updated November 21, 2015: A new MLS team Atlanta United FC is coming to town in 2017!
Ref: Wikipedia, NASLJerseys.com, SportsLogos.net