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U.S. Soccer moves south


The U.S. Soccer Federation recently announced that it's leaving its national headquarters in Chicago. The organization will move its staff and build the first-ever training center for all U.S. soccer national teams in Atlanta. The decision to relocate to the Southeast comes as no surprise to those watching the sport's rise in the region. Orlando Montoya of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.

ORLANDO MONTOYA, BYLINE: To give you a sense of how quickly soccer has grown in the Southeast, a decade ago, there were no major league soccer teams south of Washington, D.C. Now there are five. And the league's vice president for communications, Dan Courtemanche, says their fans are transforming the sport.

DAN COURTEMANCHE: The cultural influence for the sport of soccer in our country has certainly shifted South, and that's due in large part to the success of Atlanta United, Charlotte FC, Nashville SC and even further south with Orlando City and Inter Miami.

MONTOYA: Four of the league's five largest match attendance records were set in either Atlanta or Charlotte in the past five years. Felipe Cardenas writes about soccer for The Athletic. He says the region and the sport are both attracting similar types of people.

FELIPE CARDENAS: Demographically, this region is changing dramatically, and it's become an international region. And it's the new America, meaning a younger generation, a more diverse generation, a more open-minded generation.

MONTOYA: Soccer in the Southeast also got a huge boost this year when one of those young internationals decided to play for Inter Miami.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: America's No. 10, the best No. 10 in the world, Lionel Andres Messi.

MONTOYA: The arrival of one of the greatest soccer players of all time has excited super fans like Matt Swift of Mint City Collective, a Charlotte FC supporters group, the kind that waves large flags, belts out chants and sets off smoke bombs during matches.

MATT SWIFT: Messi's here in the South. He's in the Eastern Conference. I just think with him specifically coming to the league, it's going to open up a lot more doors, a lot more eyeballs on this league. And it's going to change a lot of things. And, again, it's no coincidence that they've moved the headquarters to Atlanta.

MONTOYA: Like any other business decision, U.S. Soccer's move to Atlanta also could have to do with weather, airport connections and, of course, money. The owner of Atlanta United and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, pledged $50 million toward the move. For NPR News, I'm Orlando Montoya in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ FERDINAND SONG, "40 FT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Orlando Montoya