Woosnam’s, Atlanta, The Chiefs, and “Sonny”, a footballer going to space!

Today Atlanta is among a number of American cities that host MLS football and with Atlanta United FC playing their home games at the wonderful Mercedes Benz Stadium. The stadium opened in 2017, a modern and architectural masterpiece with a record attendance of 73 019 from the MLS Cup in 2018, when United FC played Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup.

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Atlanta United FC was founded back in 2014, they have a massive following with “soccer” heavily popular in this region of the US, getting average attendances in the region of 52 000, based on figures from 2019. The club won the MLS Cup in that same season, and since becoming an MLS club just two years before, it’s very impressive. The club also have several different supporter groups known as Terminus Legion, Resurgence, Footie Mob and The Faction.

Today their most prominent star is the former Manchester United and Argentina international defender Gabriel Heinze, who is the head coach of the club. The 42 year old has earlier been in charge of clubs such as Velez Sarchfield and Argentina Juniors.

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A few other familier names are also seen with the former Aston Villa experienced goalkeeper Brad Guzan still active and a long servant since joining from Middlesbrough in 2017. We also recognize Miguel Almiron who joined Newcastle from Atlanta a couple of seasons ago for a fee of £21million.

Another big money sale took place a few months back when the Argentinian international Pity Martinez left the club and joined Al Nassr for a fee of $18 million. This is a special phenomena as we are not really giving this league and the clubs much interest back in Europe.

Venezuela international Josef Martinez is a player to notice with 75 goals in 84 MLS starts since joining Atlanta United FC back in 2017. Martinez has a previous career in Switzerland and Italy with clubs such as Young Boys Bern and Torino.

You will also find imports from Britain in the squad, might not be much known “back home”. Mo Adams and Anton Walkes are two English players, the also have the Irish midfielder Jake Mulraney among their players.

The town of Atlanta have over the years had a number of soccer club foundations and going back to the late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s you had The Chiefs as the one we surely remember. NASL was heavily dominated by foreign players and management. The Chiefs had their British influence with a certain Phil Woosnam as a special frontier. The Welsh born international had his best years in English football playing for West Ham United. He also appeared in the EFL for Leyton Orient and Aston Villa, before moving across the pond and turning up in Atlanta.

The nephew of one of the most fantastic athletes of British heritage, Max Woosnam, who also travelled The Atlantic long before Phil set his foot in America, playing for the famous Corinthians FC, a team of English amateurs that toured South America, and is seen as the main inspiration of what today is known as one of the major clubs in Brazil. Max Woosnam was a multi talented athlete that as an amateur later played for Chelsea and Manchester City, besides being a grand tennis player winning Olympic Gold and Wimbledon.

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While Max toured the South, Phil did the same in the North, many years later, and really cemented his name in Atlanta, both as a player and coach for The Chiefs, winning the first ever NASL championship in 1967 and being influential in the sports of soccer in the States.

Ian Woosnam left Atlanta after just two seasons to become commissioner of the NASL and one of the most important persons in the front of the “soccer” revolution in the States during the 70’s. He later became the head of US Soccer, important in getting the World Cup to the nation in 1994. Woosnam died in 2013, 80 years of age. Phil Woosnam was a pioneer and as so many other British born part of the US Soccer Hall of Fame.

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A number of great names did enter the books of Atlanta Chiefs one is Kaizer Motaung. A South African who had a great number of seasons up front for The Chiefs, scoring goals and being part of the team that hosted Santos FC in a friendly back in 1968, shockingly taking the lead over the Brazilians with Pelè in their team, but the New York Cosmos player to be managed to hit back and show their dominance winning 6-2 in the end. But that was probably the most amazing about Kaizer who in 1970 founded his own football club named Kaizer Chiefs, based on his first name and the clubs last name, today one of South Africa’s most famous “landmarks”, as the club is known world wide as one of the nations best teams, being the base and source for some of the greatest players to have have been exported to bigger foreign leagues.

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To find a professional footballer who also has gone to space might be a tall order, but if you are exploring the internet you often find peculiar stories and of course you will find exactly such a person, his name is Sonny Carter, and as a member of the spacecraft Discovery he was “out there” for 120 hours, as well as playing for Atlanta Chiefs in the seasons, 1970, 71 and 72. Sonny Carter tragically died in an air crash at the age of 43, the year was 1991, and at the time an employee of NASA. After Sonny Carter’s death his name will always be remembered and honored as a very special training centre for this purpose is holding his name.

MLS might be relatively new and a bit unknown and of little interest for the European fan, but certainly the history of “Soccer in the States” does contain a number of great and fascinating stories as the movement is growing and certain areas of this big country does have a great culture and tradition of the sport.

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