Atlanta United FC staff, players and fans celebrate the club's 2018 MLS Cup Championship with a parade and pep rally at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 10, 2018. (Mitchell Northam / ProSoccerUSA)
ATLANTA — Julian Gressel sang along to every song. Hector “Tito” Villalba acquired a drum. Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann solicited beers from fans. Michael Parkhurst cursed. Darren Eales quoted Andre 3000.
Atlanta United FC celebrated its Major League Soccer Cup victory Monday, parading down the streets of the Peach City and holding a pep rally at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was cold and rainy, but a little inclement weather wasn’t going to stop thousands of rowdy and proud supporters from cheering on the Five Stripes one more time in 2018.
Several prominent members of the club took to the podium at the pep rally to speak to the fans. Among them were Eales — the club’s president — Parkhurst, owner Arthur Blank, Georgia governor Nathan Deal, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, technical director Carlos Bocanegra and out-going head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
As his final act as Atlanta’s head coach, Martino hammered down the Golden Spike. Atlanta does this before every home game and typically gets an Atlanta celebrity to do it, which fires up the home crowd.
It hasn’t been officially been announced yet, but it’s been widely reported that Martino will accept the manager position with the Mexico national team. Not only did Martino lead Atlanta to an MLS Cup, but the Five Stripes scored 70 goals in back-to-back seasons and earned a berth in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League. He was named MLS Coach of the Year this season.
When Martino took the stage, fans chanted: “One more year! One more year!”
Before Monday’s pep rally, the club already began negotiating a new contract with Parkhurst, the team’s 34-year-old captain and starting centerback. The club declined the option on his contract Sunday, but Eales said Monday he is “hopeful” Parkhurst will return. Parkhurst was an MLS All-Star in each of his two seasons with Atlanta and finished third in MLS Defender of the Year voting this season.
For Parkhurst, Saturday was the fifth time he played for an MLS Cup, but the first time he won.
“It feels damn good to be a champion,” Parkhurst said with a smile. “This cup is ours and this cup is yours.”
Notably missing from the celebration was Andrew Carleton, the club’s first homegrown signing. A club spokesperson said Sunday that Carleton was suspended from Saturday’s MLS Cup match because the 18-year-old “violated a club policy.”
*extremely atlanta* pic.twitter.com/mGVINmn11N
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) December 10, 2018
Atlanta’s celebration Monday revealed some parallels to the city’s revered hip-hop culture.
At the Source Awards in 1995, Atlanta-based hip-hop duo OutKast took home the award for “Best New Rap Group.” It was off the heels of their debut album, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” This was at a time when not many in the hip-hop world paid attention to the South. DJs, hip-hop fans and journalists were focused on the coasts: Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang in New York, and Dr. Dre. Tupac and Snoop Dogg in California. The record companies, Bad Boy and Death Row, were feuding and capturing headlines.
When OutKast won, the crowd booed. Big Boi and Andre 3000 took the stage. Andre uttered a line that made everyone take notice, that vaulted southern hip-hop into the mainstream, that opened doors for rappers like Ludacris, Killer Mike and T.I.
Some doubted MLS would work in Atlanta. Two years into its existence — winning MLS Cup and breaking attendance and scoring records along the way — it’s clear those folks were wrong.
Eales has been there from the beginning. Blank hired him to run the team two-and-a-half years before it took the field. And before Eales left the stage at Monday’s pep rally, he capped his speech to the thousands of fans in attendance by quoting Andre 3000’s iconic line from that awards show 23 years ago.
“The South got something to say.”