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Major League Soccer coming to Atlanta

A fan poses with the MLS Trophy Wednesday in Atlanta, where officials announced that the city will field an MLS team starting in 2017. (Reuters)

A fan poses with the MLS Trophy Wednesday in Atlanta, where officials announced that the city will field an MLS team starting in 2017. (Reuters)

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Arthur Blank

ATLANTA — Atlanta has landed a Major League Soccer expansion team that will play beginning in 2017 in the city’s new open-air stadium downtown, officials announced on Wednesday.

Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and a co-founder of Home Depot Inc., purchased the new franchise, which will be the league’s 22nd team.

“This is an exciting day for Atlanta,” Blank said. “We have been working on soccer for probably over 10 years now. It’s been a dream of ours.”

The Georgia Dome, Atlanta’s current downtown football stadium, is scheduled to be torn down and replaced in 2017 with a $1 billion open-air facility with a retractable roof.

“Downsizing technology” to create a smaller stadium seating plan for soccer fans will be used at the new football stadium, the league said.

“Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “Arthur is deeply passionate about soccer and our quest to become one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world.”

No decision on the name of the team has been made, Blank said.

With the addition of Atlanta, MLS has added 11 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season with two more teams set to join the league by 2020, including a potential one in Miami owned by former England captain David Beckham.

Expansion teams New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer Club will begin play in 2015.

MLS currently has 19 teams in the United States and Canada with two additional teams planned to launch next year in New York and Orlando.

The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have also expressed interest in bringing an MLS franchise to their new football stadium due to open in 2016 and designed to be suitable for soccer.

With a diverse, multi-cultural population Atlanta has long been considered a hot spot for soccer.

Crowds of over 50,000 have regularly attended international soccer matches in Atlanta while nearly 70,000 watched a friendly between Mexico and Nigeria last month.

“We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta,” Blank said. “We are going to build a first-class organization on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come.”

For MLS games, the stadium will feature a more intimate configuration, with a seating capacity of 29,322.

“I think it is very exciting. I think it is a great opportunity for the city,” said Georgia native Clint Mathis, a former MLS all-star and member of the U.S. national team. “A lot of good youth talent comes from the Atlanta area and there are a lot of big (youth) clubs in the area.”