MLS’s Atlanta United will own and operate the new Gwinnett team, playing at 10,427-capacity Coolray Field, home of the International League’s Gwinnett Braves (for now; the team is slated to undergo a name change this offseason). The USL team, which will have a name and crest to be announced later, will begin play in 2018.
“Atlanta United’s organization has quickly proven itself among the leaders in Major League Soccer, and we are delighted to welcome them to our already world-class ownership groups that make up the USL,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “The caliber of organization that has been assembled by Arthur Blank and his team has raised the bar for professional soccer in the United States, and their addition to our league is another step toward the USL’s goal of becoming one of the best Division II professional soccer leagues in the world, on par with the English Championship, Liga Adelante and 2. Bundesliga.”
Atlanta United was an unexpected success in 2017, setting league attendance records and making the playoffs as an expansion team. The team has also stressed a developmental system: three players participated in the recent 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup.
“This is a great opportunity for our club’s long-term success to be able to bridge the gap between our best in class academy and our First Team,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said. “Establishing a top-level Academy was the first priority for our club and while our staff has done a marvelous job in identifying and developing young players, the next step has always been to create the pathway for the 18-to-19-year-old player who needs to continue his development before competing for a starting position at the MLS level. We’ll now have the capability to develop players in our system from the time they’re 12 years-old until the minute they reach the First Team. We also want to thank Charleston Battery for being fantastic partners over the last two years. The Battery are a first-class organization and we’ll continue to maintain a professional working relationship with the club.”
The addition of the Atlanta team puts the number of new USL markets in 2018 to four: Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Nashville SC — all playing out of Minor League Baseball ballparks.
Also playing out of a Minor League Baseball ballpark beginning in 2019: a new Memphis USL team. Owned by Trinity Sports Holdings, which also owns the Memphis Redbirds, the Pacific Coast League team that will share AutoZone Park with the new USL team launching in 2019.
“We are excited about the prospects of a third professional sports team in downtown Memphis,” said Redbirds President and GM Craig Unger in a press statement. “Coupled with the continued revitalization of downtown, the time has never been better for investment in the city and its people.”