03:02 - Source: COPA90
Copa90: Meet Atlanta United's passionate fans
CNN —  

Step aside, Messi and Ronaldo.

As the world’s biggest soccer stars took the field in separate games at the world’s largest soccer competition on Saturday, Atlanta was quietly filling its Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Continuing its new tradition of massive crowds, Atlanta’s adolescent Major League Soccer team hosted 71,932 people.

That’s way more than the day’s two World Cup games, neither of which topped 45,000 fans – making Atlanta’s easily the most-watched-in-person soccer game in the world on Saturday.

In fairness, the stadiums in Russia were filled to capacity. But this wasn’t even the largest crowd Atlanta has seen.

In only its second season, Atlanta United broke the Major League Soccer attendance record in March and boasts the top four highest attendances in MLS history.

The expansion team, which joined MLS last year, has surprised observers by creating a devoted soccer culture in the city seemingly overnight.

Atlanta’s newfound soccer culture

After the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, the Braves moved their ballpark to the suburbs and the Hawks finished at the bottom of their conference, Atlanta was ready to fill a sports void.

The city has a unique identity which may help generate such enthusiasm. Atlanta has topped Penske’s top moving destinations list for the last eight years, and 37% of the city’s residents are not native to Georgia.

For those reasons, many consider it a “transplant city” which lacks a common geographical culture.

So the advent of Atlanta’s soccer team helped bring together a city of foreigners. The team has four official supporter clubs – “Footie Mob,” “Resurgence,” “Terminus Legion” and “The Faction” – which encourage fans to turn out in numbers, connect with each other and cheer like hell.

Breaking down the numbers

Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened last summer and has 71,000 seats but can expand to 75,000. The $1.5 billion arena has a retractable roof and took more than three years to build.

Atlanta United averages almost 50,000 fans per game, the largest attendance of any MLS team by a wide margin. The team could almost certainly average more, but the stadium’s upper deck is closed for some games.

Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts during his team's loss to France in Kazan, Russia.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts during his team's loss to France in Kazan, Russia.

The average attendance for World Cup soccer games also hovers around 50,000. On Saturday, Uruguay booted Portugal and France defeated Argentina, eliminating two of the world’s most famous soccer stars – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – from the tournament.

Meanwhile, Atlanta tops its conference and plays FC Dallas on July 4.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the first name of Cristiano Ronaldo.