United goes for a real rarity: a championship in Atlanta
ATLANTA (AP) — When Atlanta United reached Saturday’s MLS Cup final, the 2-year-old soccer team moved to the cusp of a truly rare accomplishment.
The last big league championship in this city was captured on Oct. 28, 1995 , when the Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in Game 6 of the World Series.
In case anyone is counting, that was 8,442 days ago.
Even taking into account minor leagues and fringe sports, only four teams have claimed titles since Atlanta became a big league city with the arrival of the Braves from Milwaukee in 1966 (followed a few months later by the Falcons, an NFL expansion team).
United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said the team is aware of Atlanta’s long history of sporting heartache and what a title would mean to the entire state.
“We know about it. We hear about it,” he said on the eve of the championship game against Portland. The MLS Cup “is not just for us as a team, as a club, as an organization. It’s for the city of Atlanta. It’s for the state of Georgia. We know we’ve got a couple of bigger causes.”
A recap of the city’s pro sports heartache:
Before the Braves moved south, the minor league Atlanta Crackers won numerous pennants and league titles, earning the nickname “Yankees of the Minors.”
The Braves are known for their postseason failures.
The lone World Series title came during an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles. Atlanta lost four times in the World Series — most notably, in 1991 with a 1-0, 10-inning defeat to the Minnesota Twins in Game 7, and in 1996 to the New York Yankees when they blew a 6-0 lead at home with a chance to take a commanding series lead.
The Braves are currently mired in a streak of nine straight postseason series losses.
Beyond the big leagues, a Triple-A team in suburban Gwinnett County lost in its only finals appearance in 2016.
The Falcons have been to the Super Bowl on two occasions.
Both times, they came up short.
Their most notorious setback was just two seasons ago , when Atlanta built a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter against New England. Tom Brady and the Patriots rallied for a 34-28 victory in overtime, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
The city once had an Arena Football League team. In their lone ArenaBowl appearance, the Georgia Force lost 51-48 when Colorado kicked a field goal on the final play of the game.
The Atlanta Hawks, who moved to the city from St. Louis in 1968, have never advanced to the NBA Finals. Their best season came in 2014-15, when they posted the best record in the East but were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference final .
The Atlanta Dream have reached the WNBA Finals three times.
The result: three losses — each time via sweep.
Atlanta is the only city to lose two NHL franchises: the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980, while the Thrashers bolted for Winnipeg in 2011.
Neither won a postseason series.
The Flames made the playoffs six of their eight seasons in Atlanta, but lost in the opening round each time. The Thrashers were swept in the lone postseason appearance of their 11 seasons.
Atlanta fared better on the minor league front. The Knights won the now-defunct International Hockey League’s Turner Cup in 1994.
But the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators, who play in suburban Gwinnett County, have yet to win a title. They fell to Alaska in their only trip to the Kelly Cup finals in 2006.
The Atlanta Chiefs could be classified as the city’s first major champion, capturing the inaugural North American Soccer League title in 1968 with a 3-0 victory over the San Diego Toros.
Perhaps it was more fitting that the Chiefs lost in their only other trip to the finals, falling 2-0 at home to the Dallas Tornado in the deciding game of a best-of-three series in 1971.
The Chiefs lasted a total of 10 seasons with two different franchises, going out of business for good after the 1981 season.
In between the Chiefs and United’s launch in 2017, Atlanta had teams in several lesser-known men’s leagues — with very familiar results. The Ruckus lost in the 1995 A-League final. The Silverbacks were beaten in the title game of both the USL First Division (2007) and a revived version of the North American Soccer League (2013).
And let’s not forget: the Atlanta Beat lost twice in the championship game of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA).
The league lasted only three seasons.
Since titles are so hard to come by in Atlanta, we’ll mention the city’s indoor lacrosse team.
The Georgia Swarm won the 2017 National Lacrosse League title with a 2-0 sweep of Saskatchewan.
Hardly anyone noticed.