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The Stories Behind the Shirts

Long Before United, Atlanta's Soccer Team was the Chiefs

by OldSchoolShirts Info 23 Aug 2019
1967 Atlanta Chiefs

Atlanta United FC is one of only three teams in Major League Soccer that shares a stadium with a football team with no plans to move into a smaller, soccer-specific facility, something often required by the league.

Like the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, Atlanta United FC are so popular, they need a larger stadium to accommodate their fans. Vancouver and Seattle have always had strong support for outdoor soccer, but who new "Hotlanta" was so enamored of the beautiful game? Turns out, Atlanta also has quite a soccer history.

The city’s first team debuted on April 16, 1967, as charter members of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) in 1967. Owned by the same group that owned baseball’s Braves, and sharing that club’s stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the team took the closely related name “Chiefs.”  

The following year, the NPSL merged with the rival United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League (NASL). That year, the Chiefs won the league title and beat England’s powerful Manchester United in two friendlies. 

At the gate, the team finished fourth in attendance, averaging almost 6.000 fans a game in the first year of the NASL, a drop of nearly 1,000 fans from the previous season. The rest of the league struggled as well, shedding 10 teams at the end of that first season.

The Chiefs continued on, though, and in 1971 improved enough to make it the NASL Final, falling to the Dallas Tornado. Attendance increased accordingly, topping 5,000 in 1972. With the team’s value on the upswing, it was sold to the group that owned the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

With new ownership came a new name, the Apollos. However, the team’s fortunes declined on the pitch and at the gate. In 1973, they finished with 3 wins, 7 losses, and 9 draws. They also finished last in attendance averaging only 3,317 in their new home, Bobby Dodd Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech. The team folded at the end of the season.

That left Atlanta without pro outdoor soccer for five years until the Caribous of Colorado moved to Georgia after just one season in Denver. The Caribous were renamed the Chiefs with the old logo and colors revived. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium again became their home, with the Omni arena hosting the team for two indoor seasons. 

Their first year back, they drew over 7,300 before attendance dropped the following year to 4,884 per game as the ream posted a 7 and 25 record. Things improved in 1981 as the team came back to notch a 17 and 15 mark and a first-round playoff appearance as an average of nearly 6,200 fans per match came through the turnstiles. That, though, was near the bottom of the NASL’s attendance figures and less than half the league average of 14,000 fans a game. The 1981 campaign would be the Chiefs' last.

It would be 36 years before outdoor pro soccer would return to Atlanta with the wildly popular Atlanta United FC. In its first two home games, United drew more fans than the Chiefs did for the entirety of their final season in 1981.

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