Atlanta United FC, a Major League Soccer expansion team, will play its first official friendly this afternoon at Finley Stadium against the Chattanooga Football Club of the National Premier Soccer League.
It will be a nostalgic occurrence for Atlanta United, which became a franchise in April 2014. It will be an opportunity to remember for Chattanooga FC coach Bill Elliott and his collection of amateur players.
"There was some disbelief from me at first that we were going to do this," Elliott said. "The payroll of Atlanta United and the type of player they're working with is not even close to the same as what we're doing, and they're finishing up their preseason. We're going to gather a bunch of amateurs, have one training session and then play."
Today's friendly will start at 3, and more than 5,000 tickets had been sold as of Friday, according to Chattanooga FC general manager Sean McDaniel, who is hopeful of a crowd of at least 8,000.
Atlanta United has sold more than 27,000 season tickets, a record for an MLS expansion franchise, for its inaugural year at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium (the team will move to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2018). The average MLS game last season drew an attendance of less than 22,000.
Chattanooga FC, which played before 18,227 at Finley in the 2015 NPSL title match, typically starts its season the first or second week of May, so today's experience will be unique. Elliott said nine of his 11 starters will be familiar to fans of the club, as well as two or three more on the bench.
"For us, it's an opportunity to be active in a time of year when we're not normally active," Elliott said. "We're using it as an opportunity to look at some players who have been with us for a few years and also some new faces that we want to look at and see if they can add something to the squad for the summer. We want to measure ourselves as an organization against the highest level of soccer in this country, and Atlanta United and the MLS is definitely that.
"If we don't measure ourselves against the best, then we will never understand fully how we can grow."
When asked if playing Atlanta United to a draw would equal the shock value of the 18,227 fans at Finley for an amateur championship match, Elliott said it would surpass it.
"It shouldn't even be close, but we'll see," he said. "It should be fun. They are bringing in players from around the world on six-figure salaries. It will be an uphill battle for us, but it's something we're viewing as a challenge.
"We've made a habit of surprising some people, so hopefully we can be surprisingly competitive. At least we're at Finley."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.