Atlanta United delivers the passion of South American football without the pepper spray

ATLANTA — Franco Escobar’s introduction to top-level Argentine soccer ought to have been one of the thrilling days of his younger life.

A local of Rosario, Escobar started his profession with Newell’s Previous Boys, one in every of Argentina’s main golf equipment. His first-team debut in 2015, as destiny would have it, was to come back towards Boca Juniors on the well-known Bombonera. That was one thing straight out of a young person’s dream: leaping straight into the fireplace, enjoying in one of many largest video games his nation has to supply, at one in every of its most prestigious and intimidating venues in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Solely the match was held behind closed doorways.

Foreshadowing current occasions, Boca supporters have been suspended on the time for attacking rival River Plate followers and gamers throughout a Copa Libertadores match earlier that yr. The ambiance was eerie, listless.

“There have been no followers,” Escobar recalled to ESPN FC, and the dearth of noise was nearly extra off-putting than its howling presence.

Thrown off their sport, Newell’s misplaced Four-Zero. Escobar was extra disoriented than exhilarated by the expertise. Thus the 23-year-old defender, now of Atlanta United, discovered early that the fervour and pageantry of Argentina’s home sport got here with determined drawbacks. Empty stadiums have been one factor — the out-and-out violence that flared again up and led to the delay of yet one more Boca-River Libertadores sport a number of weeks in the past was one thing else.

Lots of the observations of the current incident touched on a central theme: that Argentine soccer is toeing a harmful line on some degree, that the vibrancy that pulls a lot admiration from across the globe can also be the product of one thing darker stirring beneath the floor.

“The colour, the noise, that stirring sense of the epic: All of that’s actual,” wrote Rory Smith of The New York Times. “Nevertheless it doesn’t exist in isolation. Left…

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