What does it take to become a champion in any sport? Most would say that athletic ability has more to do with winning than anything else. Certainly in individual sports athleticism is the key; however, it is not the only key. Throughout my life, I have had the privilege of playing football with some of the best players in the world. One thing that I observed was that even if a team has the greatest athletes in the country, they will never be champions if they lack effective leadership and the collective determination to win at all costs.
My father, Frank, was the Captain of the University of Georgia 1980 National Champions in football. He played with Hershel Walker, Scott Woerner, Chris Welton, and many others that went on to have NFL careers. I took all the knowledge he gave me about what it takes to be a good leader to heart. He defined it best this way: “A great leader is someone who through their mere presence inspires those around them to strive for greatness.” That has always stuck in my mind because it is true, and I have seen it prove to be true time and again. Many teams have had great players, but very few have great players who can gel with the team to elevate everyone to greater heights.
Atlanta United reached the pinnacle of the MLS in only their 2nd year of play. Since selling Almiron, many have said that United looked out of sorts, unorganized, and confused on the field. Taylor Twellmen said on live TV that United was playing “without purpose”. While it is true that Almiron was a rock for the team, no one player can win a soccer match. One of the greatest parts about the game is each player having a job to do every time they walk onto the pitch. Men like Barco, Villalba, and Pity Martinez. Listen to instructions being screamed to their team mates over a raucous Atlanta crowd. They also have motors that never stop. It has been seen time and again in sports; players see that determination which raises everyone to greater heights.
The question begging is: Can United fuse together in the style of another Championship team? They absolutely can. The first ten games of the 2019 season our record was 4W-4L-2D. Since then United has been 11W-6L-1D. The best way to judge a team’s probability of success during a season is by looking at how they have persevered throughout the season. A lot of teams in the MLS would have been sullen because of the loss of a great player like Almiron, and the best coach in the MLS. Atlanta refused to let off season changes dictate what their win and loss column would be at the end of the year. That takes a lot of resilience and mental toughness, especially in a professional sports environment.
There were certainly some hiccups bonding together a differently structured team at the beginning of the season, but all signs lead to the fact that our players have a certain type of fortitude that is needed to win Championships. Every game players fly all around the field, giving everything they have to score or gain possession. The only thing that could derail the team is a mass of injuries, but they are part of any contact sport. I also have no doubt that if there are injuries we will have men that will stand up to the challenge. Proving that soccer in the South is here and here to stay.