The offseason has come to a close –– the reigning MLS Cup Champions are taking the field for the first time in a competitive match in 2019. After Atlanta United conquered Major League Soccer in just their second season, now the club enters a new world of international competition with a road debut in the Concacaf Champions League against Costa Rican champions CS Herediano.
It’s the red, black and gold’s first chance at international glory, and the first step is in Costa Rica. It all starts at 10 p.m. EST on Thursday February 21st. Click here for all the information on how to tune in to the match.
Atlanta United are the reigning champions of MLS and the star has officially been added to the jerseys – but the celebrations are in the past and by now everyone knows, the Five Stripes don’t stop. There are new records, new championships and new goals for the team to conquer in season number three. One of the biggest is their first run at the Concacaf Champions League, and it all starts with a tricky road fixture in Costa Rica versus Herediano.
It will be the same attacking style that Atlanta United fans have grown accustomed to over the past two seasons, and many of the faces will be the same. They still have a top-tier MLS defense, one of the most technical midfields in the league, and the reigning MVP leading the attacking line. The biggest change will be on the touchline, with Dutchman Frank de Boer taking over for Tata Martino as Atlanta United head coach. Second will be the reigning South American Player of the Year, Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, lining up as the #10 for the first time since Miguel Almirón’s offseason departure.
While Atlanta United’s first-round foes are formidable, the new year adjustments will be the biggest challenge in their first match of the season: integrating new faces and adapting familiar ones to the tactical tweaks that come with a new manager. They’ll be thrown straight into the fire against a Herediano squad that are halfway through their season, already gelled into a cohesive attacking unit. But if they can put the pieces together and build on the early sparks seen in LA preseason training, Atlanta United have the pieces to take on anyone in Concacaf. But it all starts on Thursday in a hostile environment and tough conditions –– all obstacles they’ll have to overcome to get their international campaign off on the right foot.
CS Herediano is a team with plenty of history, founded 97 years ago in Heredia, Costa Rica. They’re coming off a strong season, winning their 27th Costa Rican Primera División title in the winter of 2018, and are preparing to make their seventh straight appearance in Concacaf play. But injuries and departures have taken their toll so far in this season, pushing the team down to ninth place out of twelve in the first division of Costa Rica.
A big part of that slide has been the departure of Yendrick Ruiz, a veteran center forward who started 32 matches and led the team in goals last season. His departure to Oriente Petrolero in Bolivia has left the door open for a few younger players –– Antonio Pedorza and Alberth Villalobos –– to compete for a spot up top next to former D.C. United striker José Guillermo Ortiz in the top of a 4-4-2 formation. But games aren’t won with just goals, with Allan Cruz’s recent move to FC Cincinnati proving a tough position to replace in the center of the team’s midfield.
However, Atlanta United knows this will be no walk in the park. Head coach Frank de Boer pointed out the team’s physicality and desire in the pre-match build-up, and playing against a team in mid-season form in front of a hostile crowd in what is expected to be wet and humid conditions is a challenge, no matter where the team may sit in the standings. Jeff Larentowicz summed it up best saying, “Tactically we’ve watched them a bit, but I think first and foremost what we need to be ready for is the intensity of the team, the crowd and the difficulty of traveling to another country and playing on their turf.” No matter what happens on the scoresheet, Atlanta United fans can expect a hard-fought battle from the opening kick.
It’s the first taste of competitive soccer for an Atlanta United side hungry to build on last year’s success. Click here for more information on how to follow the match.