As hard as it is to believe around here, the rest of sports world doesn’t stop for the Masters Tournament.
The NBA and NHL moved into their interminable postseason phases. Spring football concluded at area colleges while the NFL Draft rapidly approaches. The Braves got off to a decent start and even celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s historic 715th home run while Adam Scott was serving dinner to his fellow Masters champions.
Two things in particular, however, stuck out as we move out of the post-Masters gloom.
ATLANTA JOINS MLS: Arthur Blank will make the most of his new retractable roof stadium after cornering the market on all manner of professional football.
The Falcons owner added a soccer team to his portfolio, bringing another full-time tenant to his $1 billion stadium that will open in 2017.
Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that Atlanta will become the expanding league’s 22nd franchise when it begins play in 2017. Orlando and New York City will begin play next season and the MLS hopes to have 24 teams in place by 2020. Miami would be the 23rd team if David Beckham can get a soccer-specific stadium built.
“I think Atlanta is a natural fit for Major League Soccer,” Blank said Wednesday.
“This will be big, you guys will be proud,” said league commissioner Don Garber. “MLS will be very successful in this city.”
Soccer hasn’t had the best track record in Atlanta. Despite the Atlanta Chiefs winning the very first championship in the defunct North American Soccer League, that franchise struggled to make it financially and folded twice.
With a glamorous new stadium and a multi-ethnic population base that drew more than 68,000 fans to the Georgia Dome in March to watch a friendly between Mexico and Nigeria, Blank believes this team will have a chance to stick. He hasn’t picked a name, but supporters are already lobbying for including the city’s original name “Terminus” in the club’s label.
Fans of The Walking Dead – filmed in and around Atlanta – would probably be on board with that.
It will be a great opportunity for fans to get in on the ground floor and gain less expensive access to Blank’s new downtown stadium which will be designed to seat about 71,000 for NFL games but will be condensed to about 30,000 in the lower bowl for soccer.
“This will be one of the great stadiums in our country,” Garber said. “Having seen the plans, we think it will be one of the great stadiums in the world.”
NEXT GAMECOCKS CHAMPIONS: Baseball has become a consistent championship staple for South Carolina fans. Women’s basketball might be the next to reach elite stature under coach Dawn Staley.
The Gamecocks earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, but that was just a stepping stone for what’s coming next. With every starter returning, Staley might have added the piece Wednesday that will put them on par with the UConns and Notre Dames atop the women’s empire.
A’ja Wilson, the nation’s No. 1 recruit from Columbia’s Heathwood Hall, announced that she would stay home to play for the Gamecocks instead of taking her talents to traditional powers Connecticut, Tennessee or North Carolina.
“There’s really just no place like home,” Wilson said to the delight of her high school teammates.
Her announcement elicited screams in the basketball office of Staley, who put together the country’s No. 2 recruiting class by adding the 6-foot-5 Wilson to fellow five-star signees Jatarie White, Bianca Cuevas and Kaydra Duckett.
“I am overjoyed with A’ja and her family joining our Gamecock family,” Staley said. “She represents South Carolina on so many levels, and we’re so glad the entire state will see her career unfold on our campus. It truly is a great day to be a Gamecock.”
Wilson is a rare talent. Before concentrating exclusively on basketball, she was an all-state volleyball player and broke the school’s 100-meter dash record as a sophomore. Last season she averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game in leading Heathwood Hall to a state title. She nailed the 3-pointer to force overtime in the championship game against Northwood Academy.
Wilson said she wants to win an NCAA championship for the Gamecocks. With the direction Staley is taking the program, that’s not out of reach.
LINGERING GOLF STUFF: Jordan Spieth shelved his disappointment at failing to become the youngest Masters winner to play this week in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. But his runner-up finish after leading by two with 11 holes left still smarts.
“Going in, yes, I would have been pleased with runner‑up at the Masters the first time there, knowing how tough that golf course is to play the first time you play it,” Spieth said. “But given the fact that I was leading a golf tournament and not thinking about where I was or what it could mean at the end, which I didn’t, it definitely left me stinging. And it definitely left me hungry and ready to play golf again, which I get to do (this week). And ready to eventually get back there again, which is, I think, the only way to kind of redeem myself and to get rid of that will eventually have to be at Augusta.”
One of the men who called Spieth’s Masters also teed it up in Hilton Head.
Three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo hasn’t played Augusta since 2006, but the 56-year-old might have been inspired by six of his peers making the cut at the Masters and chose to see what he could do against the young stars this week.
“I’m out here for three reasons – #freshair, #exercise and #curiosity,” Faldo said, using hip social media lingo. “Just go and play and don’t scare myself. That’s the goal. Just go and see what happens.”
His 6-over-par 77 left him at the bottom of the field.