Atlanta's reputation as a hub for soccer is growing, as two April events planted the city more firmly on the map for fans of the sport.

In addition to being the home of the 2018 MLS champions Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium continues to host an array of global soccer tournaments, including last weekend's SheBelieves Cup.

That international soccer friendly set an attendance record at the Benz on April 6 as the United States Women's National Team defeated Japan and Canada beat Brazil.

And April 8, U.S. Soccer broke ground on a first-of-its-kind national training center in Fayette County, south of Atlanta. The facility will create 440 new jobs through a $228 million investment ahead of the city hosting eight games in the 2026 World Cup.

Here's a recap of both events' impact on Atlanta's image as a go-to city for world-class soccer:


Breaking records

GPB Sports' Jon Nelson reports from the SheBelieves Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on April 6, 2024:


That was the attendance figure U.S. Soccer set for its marker as the most fans ever to attend an international friendly match. Even as the SheBelieves Cup is a “cup,” it’s still regarded in international competition circles as a “handshake between captains and a banner exchange in front of the officials at the middle of the pitch.”

As Saturday, April 6, approached for the debut of the semifinals of the Cup, the ticket sales continued to climb toward that 49,000-plus number. By match day, word was filtering out a new record would be set. And it was.

The new record is an Atlanta record at 50,644 that saw the United States Women's National Team come from behind to beat Japan and Canada beat Brazil win the second semifinal in penalties later that same afternoon. The U.S. and Canadian teams headed to Columbus, Ohio, for the final on April 9.

The SheBelieves Cup broke a record for domestic international friendlies as the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team defeated Japan  at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium on April 6, 2024.

The SheBelieves Cup broke a record for domestic international friendlies as the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team defeated Japan at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium on April 6, 2024.

Credit: X/USWNT

Atlanta is the new United States epicenter for the sport of soccer: The new National Training Center is being built south of the city, plus many international tournaments are holding matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium over the next few years (including hosting a semifinal and seven other games in the 2026 World Cup), soccer stars are beginning to feel like ATL is “home.”

Current Interim USWNT Head Coach Twila Kilgore had that revelation early Saturday afternoon.

The U.S. had been scored upon 32 seconds into the match with Japan, trailing for the first time in that manner in 20 years. And instead of panic or overreaction, Kilgore found out what the sport means to this part of the country.

“It felt like home to all of us; even the non-reaction from the Japan goal helped us,” Kilgore told GPB after the games Saturday. “So, every step of the way this group, this crowd, was incredible and my neck was hurting looking up to see how far it went up and how many people were up there, which is just incredible."

She continued: “And I also want to point this out. You know, sometimes you go to crowds and it's loud the whole time. And sometimes you get a crowd that really ooh’s and aah’s at the right moments that help push things along. And it was just an incredible atmosphere that you all created here today.”    

It was a homecoming on multiple fronts for two U.S. national team players from Georgia, Emily Sonnett of Marietta and Jane Campbell of Kennesaw. Sonnett admits that she had 25 to 30 friends and family in the building cheering her on. She was told after the match in the postgame interview line that her introduction in the second half was the third-largest ovation on the day behind the two goals scored.

The United States would come back from that early deficit to win their semifinal 2-1 over Japan and will face Canada in the final Tuesday night. But this early statement by the soccer community in Atlanta has gone a long way toward reinforcing the decision to bring all the activity — on the field and off — to the South with this area as a new focal point for the sport.

“I will say it's kind of a vibe,” U.S. midfielder Crystal Dunn told GPB with a grin. “There's so much diversity here. Like, it's really a beautiful thing. I step outside walking down the street and I really feel the presence of how diverse the city is. And I'm not surprised that we got so many fans coming to this game because I really feel like it's a hub for people to just really celebrate everyone's backgrounds and, obviously, sports always bring people together so I'm really happy we're able to break the record and, yeah, the atmosphere was incredible.” 

“I heard this is the biggest crowd that we've had since ‘99 World Cup final,” Kilgore continued. “I think the players deserve this sort of energy around them. It was incredible and to for this to happen ... it's our home now, you know, we're moving here to Atlanta... U.S. Soccer's home... it’s just an incredible thing and we really feel the support around us.

“And, also, this is huge I think for our fans to know that to help us replicate the type of environment that you feel in World Championships, like World Cups and the Olympics is massive and you play a role in helping us grow and develop and make sure we're ready for those big stages. So incredible.”

If you are setting your calendars, the next international soccer event coming to Atlanta is the opening match in the Copa America tournament involving Argentina and Canada in late June. But before that, Atlanta United returns Sunday afternoon against rival Philadelphia.

Program your calendars accordingly, soccer fans, there will be plenty to see and plenty to show off. 

Breaking ground

GPB News Morning Edition producer Devon Zwald reports from the groundbreaking of the United States Soccer National Training Center (NTC) in Fayetteville, Ga., on April 8, 2024:

U.S. Soccer broke ground April 8 on a new training facility in Fayette County.

The Arthur M. Blank U.S. Soccer National Training Center will be just over 200 acres and include soccer fields, locker rooms, and offices, all serving U.S. Soccer’s 27 men's, women’s, youth, and extended national teams.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said the facility fills a need for the organization.

“Right now, we travel all around the country and all around the world to hold camps for our national teams. And so to have one place where we can call home to have everyone at U.S. Soccer — and to have kids growing up dreaming of coming to this facility — there's nothing quite like it.”

A rendering of the U.S. Soccer training center being built in Fayette County, Ga. Groundbreaking for the project took place on April 8, 2024.

A rendering of the U.S. Soccer training center being built in Fayette County, Ga. Groundbreaking for the project took place on April 8, 2024.

Credit: U.S. Soccer

Founded in 1913, U.S. Soccer has been the official governing body of the sport in the United States for more than 100 years.

The Fayette Country project is expected to cost more than $200 million and ultimately provide more than 400 jobs, many of which are currently hiring.

U.S. Soccer said it chose Atlanta because of the airport and economic development in the area.

“U.S. Soccer’s decision to locate in metro Atlanta was supported by a team effort of local and state organizations working together — and it was bolstered by keen interest and generous support from our business community, including extraordinary leaders like Arthur Blank,” Katie Kirkpatrick, President and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said after Atlanta was announced as the location choice in December. “Our country’s enthusiasm for the sport of soccer keeps growing as the momentum builds around the FIFA World Cup 2026, and we are pleased to officially welcome U.S. Soccer to their new home in Fayette County.”