Chris Johnson

Atlanta has a championship in a major sport. Seriously, soccer is now a major sport

Atlanta United’s Franco Escobar (2) celebrates a score with teammate Jeff Larentowicz in the second half of the MLS Cup championship soccer game against the Portland Timbers on Saturday in Atlanta.
Atlanta United’s Franco Escobar (2) celebrates a score with teammate Jeff Larentowicz in the second half of the MLS Cup championship soccer game against the Portland Timbers on Saturday in Atlanta. AP

As much as I hate to admit it, the era of American football has probably peaked. With all the brain injuries, broken bones, torn-up knees and purposeful torturing of sports fans from the state of Georgia, it will become less and less accepted.

I hate that it will eventually die or become utterly transformed because it’s too late for me to take a moral stand against the sport. I love it too much. Half of my closet is gear pledging my allegiance to University of Georgia football and the Atlanta Falcons. The other half is random apparel in such condition that the items are just hiding from my wife who likes to throw away perfectly good clothes because of ridiculous prejudices, such as something having “too many holes in it.”

“Of course it has holes in it!” I’ll make my case. “How else am I supposed to put my head through it?!”

“Do you put it in through the rib cage area?”

What you will not find in my closet is anything soccer-related. However, thanks to the Atlanta United FC’s remarkable success — winning the MLS Cup in just its second year and shattering attendance records — you can bet a lot of folks in the region are stocking up on such gear. Their fans are passionate — maybe not to the insane level across Europe, but at least to a mildly crazed level.

If you ask them who their favorite football player is, they’ll likely say something like Josef Martinez or Chris McCann — a couple of the United stars. And, yes, I had to Google the roster because I knew none of the names of my home state’s MLS champions. And you don’t want your roster Googled. My crazy Uncle Joe Googled a rooster once, and feathers flew. Gotta be similar, I imagine.

If you say something like, “No! Those are soccer players. I mean football players, like Roger Staubach, Lawrence Taylor and Herschel Walker!”

“In the rest of the world, soccer is called football!” they’ll snootily retort.

“Yeah, well the rest of the world makes sure its citizens have affordable health care, too, but you don’t see we Americans following the rest of the world on that, either! We treat the sick as God intended — as profit machines!”

I would encourage everyone to get into soccer. It’s going to take over America even before universal health care. Sure, you can get hurt playing soccer, but most injuries come from flopping too hard on the turf. It’s also much less expensive than fielding an American football team. If you’re been to poor areas of Africa and Latin America, you’ve seen kids playing soccer even if they can’t afford shoes. They can find something to use as a ball and call that space between two bushes a “goal.”

I’ve tried to love soccer for those reasons. My wife and I even watched the start of the MLS Cup game Saturday night. It was absolutely thrilling. I mean, that part where 7-year-old Malea Emma belted out the national anthem (Google it — you’ll be glad you did). After Malea, it kinda went downhill from there, so we gave up 17 minutes into the match and watched “Office Christmas Party” on one of the premium channels we’re not supposed to have in our cable lineup.

We’ve all got to do like Andy and Barney and the kerosene cucumbers, though, and just learn to love it. And if you don’t get that reference, we can’t be friends.

I’ve lent my support to my soccer-loving relatives, having watched my nephew and cousins play. One even earned a college scholarship. And, I once introduced my son to soccer at the age of 4. He played whatever position requires you to stand in the middle of the field, wave your arms and talk to your imaginary friends. We quickly gave up on soccer.

However, if I figure out which guy on the Atlanta United roster plays that position, I might try to get my son on the team. He excelled at that skill.

Besides, I need an excuse to buy some Atlanta United shirts because I just saw my wife walk out the door with a trash bag full of my clothes.

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