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Atlanta United embraces MLS mission to serve community

Atlanta United president Darren Eales speaks at the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Marietta, Ga. (Jordan Culver-Pro Soccer USA)

MARIETTA, Ga. – Before the debut of Atlanta United, N’keschia Brundidge-Clark never expected Atlanta to turn into a soccer town.

Brundidge-Clark, executive director for the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Marietta, Ga., is an Atlanta native and has worked in Marietta for four years.

At the very least, Atlanta United has made a fan out of her. The Five Stripes partnered with MLS Works – the league’s community outreach arm – to transform the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club. The club on Thursday unveiled a new teen center for the club’s 130-154 kids, as well as a mini-pitch. The entire project came together in a little more than a week.

“It’s about building a community,” Brundidge-Clark said. “Showing our kids how to be a team, as well. Showing them how something can change in just a week, if you put your mind to it and get everybody together for the common good. It’s an awesome experience for our kids. To see them in action right now with the room being unveiled and how excited happy they are, I’m excited for them. It’s a good feeling.”

Atlanta United president Darren Eales was on hand for the announcement, as were league commissioner Don Garber and Atlanta United players Mikey Ambrose and Romario Williams. They surprised a group of children brought into the renovated teen center, which was spruced up with televisions and showcased elements of the Five Stripes’ “King Peach” kit.

“I think back to how be built Atlanta United, right from the very start, when [team owner] Arthur [Blank] announced that we got the franchise in 2014, we had our five stripes and they’re the five pillars and the central one is ‘community,’” Eales said.

He said early on, Atlanta United had three things it wanted to accomplish as a club. First was being competitive on the pitch. That mission is accomplished, considering the Five Stripes will compete for the MLS Cup on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The second was fan engagement. Atlanta United has crushed home attendance records.

“The third and most important is we wanted to be in the heart of the community,” Eales said.  “We were trying to get a city to embrace us as a team and you can’t expect to happen unless you’re out there showing that you care about the community.

“Right from the very start, the things that we’ve done, whether it’s working with the Boys & Girls Club [or] doing the stuff we do with ‘Soccer in the Streets’ with our pitches that we have at the MARTA stations, everything we’ve tried to do is about community and connection. It’s been amazing to see the success of Atlanta United, but it’s days like today and events like this which really make it worthwhile.”

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground is also in Marietta.

This is the second MLS Works event organized by Atlanta United this season because Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the MLS All-Star Game. The last time that happened was in 2013, when Sporting KC’s Children’s Mercy Park hosted both the all-star game and the MLS Cup.

“Community work is important for any pro sports team and our most successful teams are the ones that are the most deeply embedded in the community,” Garber said. “Atlanta United has done that as well as anybody in many ways – almost best-in-class.”

After the unveiling of the new room and the mini-pitch, Eales, Garber and the Atlanta United players in attendance stuck around for the first kick on the new pitch. Ambrose and Williams filled in as goalkeepers while the kids played a quick match.

“This is a huge part of our club,” Ambrose said. “We love giving back to our community. Our community has supported us so much the last two years. The least we could do is give back, play with the kids and just help them out in whatever way we can.

“We all love doing this and are so grateful for the opportunity to do this.”

Brundidge-Clark said it had been three years since the club was last renovated. The new teen center features bright colors, soccer ball pillows and messages like “The Kings and Queens have Arrived,” and “Sweet with Swagger.”

“We’re just so excited that they chose us as the club to transform,” she said. “It’s beautiful in here.”

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