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Atlanta awarded Major League Soccer franchise

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed (left), MLS commissioner Don Garber (second from left), Falcons owner Arthur Blank (second from right), and Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe pose with soccer balls following the announcement of an MLS expansion team in Atlanta at Ventanas. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed (left), MLS commissioner Don Garber (second from left), Falcons owner Arthur Blank (second from right), and Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe pose with soccer balls following the announcement of an MLS expansion team in Atlanta at Ventanas. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

Atlanta has become the latest city to benefit from Major League Soccer’s rapid expansion plans after being awarded a franchise on Wednesday that will begin play in 2017.

The expansion side are owned by Arthur Blank, owner of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, and will be the league’s 22nd team.

“Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.

“Arthur is deeply passionate about soccer and our quest to become one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world.”

With the addition of Atlanta, MLS has added 11 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season with two more teams set to join the league by 2020, including a potential one in Miami owned by former England captain David Beckham.

Expansion teams New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer Club will begin play in 2015.

With a diverse, multi-cultural population Atlanta has long been considered a hot spot for soccer.

Crowds of over 50,000 have regularly attended international soccer matches in Atlanta while nearly 70,000 watched a friendly between Mexico and Nigeria last month.

“We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta,” said Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot. “We are going to build a first-class organization on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come.”

The MLS’s newest team, which does not yet have a name or logo, will share a downtown Atlanta home with the Falcons and in 2017 are expected to play the first game in a new state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof.

For MLS games, the stadium will feature a more intimate configuration, with a seating capacity of 29,322.

“I think it is very exciting. I think it is a great opportunity for the city,” said Georgia native Clint Mathis, a former MLS all-star and member of the U.S. national team. “A lot of good youth talent comes from the Atlanta area and there are a lot of big (youth) clubs in the area.”