In case you missed it, the Atlanta United of Major League Soccer (MLS) is leading the league in attendance in their first season. This is something you wouldn’t have thought possible 10 years ago.
Back in the old North American Soccer League (NASL) days in the early 80s, the Atlanta Chiefs were lucky to break 10,000 in a single game. In fact, the Atlanta Chiefs brought the city their first professional sports title in 1968 when they won the NASL title but very few knew about it and it didn’t really mean much to sports fans in those days compared to the Super Bowl or the World Series.
The Atlanta Chiefs played from 1967-1973 and then again from 1979-1981. The Chiefs best regular season was their championship season of 1968 when they went 18-6-7 and won the Atlantic Division. They defended the Cleveland Stokers 1-1 and 2-1 in the conference finals then beat the San Diego Toros 0-0 and 3-0 for the championship. The Chiefs won the championship in front of 14,994 fans in Atlanta Stadium on September 28, 1968. The Chiefs were sold to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks in 1973 and changed their name to the Apollos. The team folded a year later.
Ted Turner brought the Chiefs back to life in 1979 when he purchased the Colorado Caribous franchise and moved it to Atlanta. The “new” Chiefs were a box office flop in Atlanta. The team fared poorly in 1979 under Head Coach Dan Wood, a holdover from the Caribous days, finishing at 12-18. Average attendance of 7,350 ranked 20th among the NASL’s 24 clubs. A bright spot was English striker Jeff Bourne, who finished 4th in the NASL in scoring in 1979 with 18 goals and 15 assists. The 1980 season was even worse. Wood was fired midway through the season. The Chiefs finished with the league’s worst record (7-25), limpest offense (34 goals in 32 matches) and lowest attendance (4,884 per match at 52,000-seat Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium).
Oddly enough, the Chiefs drew better playing indoor soccer than they did outdoor in the summer. In the winter of 1979, the Chiefs had the league’s best record (10-2) and their attendance of 5,069 for six home games was above the league average. The Chiefs were 13-5 the next season and led the league in attendance with 10,287 per game.
Unfortunately, the indoor success couldn’t sustain the Chiefs as they eventually folded after the 1981 outdoor season.
Atlanta Chiefs Seasons:
1967 – 10-9-2 (4th place)
1968 – 18-6-7 (1st Place – NASL Champions)
1969 – 11-2-3 (2nd place)
1970 – 11-5-8 (2nd place)
1971 – 12-5-7 (1st Place – Lost to Dallas in Final)
1972 – 5-3-6 (3rd Place)
1973 – 3-7-9 (3rd Place)
1979 – 12-18 (4th Place)
Indoor Season – 10-2 (1st Place – Lost to Tampa Bay in Division Finals)
1980 – 7-25 (4th Place)
Indoor Season – 13-5 (1st Place – Lost to Chicago in Semifinals)
1981 – 17-15 (1st Place Lost to Jacksonville in First Round)