Atlanta United are putting last year’s successes behind them to start a new chapter this season, and they start off the 2019 campaign with a tough road fixture in their first ever appearance in international play. The Five Stripes travel to Central America to take on reigning Costa Rican champions CS Herediano in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League opening matchup.
It’s a tough test to start the year for both sides. Ahead of the crucial first-leg tie, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Implement the System
Atlanta United has the weapons to challenge any team in North America. But with a new head coach and a new #10 lining up for their side, they’re putting Frank de Boer’s methods to the test for the first time in a competitive match. Any team undergoing such an offseason transition needs time to gel and form the free-flowing attack Atlanta United has been known for since their inception. But they’ll need to be sharp right off the bat to face a team in midseason condition and form. The team showed sparks and glimpses of what’s to come in preseason, but competitive, international matches are a different story. It will take every ounce of focus and discipline to maintain their tactical shape, implement their coach’s vision and ultimately pocket their first competitive victory.
Weather the Storm
Costa Rica is known to be a pretty wet place this time of year, and there’s plenty of rain in the forecast this week –– so there will be a literal storm the team will have to weather. But just as much of a challenge will be overcoming tough conditions on and off the pitch: it will be wet, on a small field, in front of a hostile crowd in the stands, and a physical, combative side on it. Similar to Yankee Stadium, it will be key for the team to work well in tight spaces. And just like the team’s mantra in last year’s postseason run: they will have to match their opponents’ fight. Head coach Frank de Boer said this week that Atlanta United may have more quality, but that doesn’t always lead to a win. They will have to match the high-intensity physicality of their opponents to come out with a good result.
Nick a Goal
No matter the opponent, Atlanta United doesn’t sit back. Their mentality is to always go for the win, home or away. But just like last year’s postseason run, a win isn’t absolutely necessary in the first leg of a two-legged tie. If the Five Stripes can stay solid defensively, while tacking on just one goal, it gives them a crucial advantage going into the road leg. A scoring draw means a clean sheet in the return leg in Atlanta is all the Five Stripes would need to move on to the next round. It’s important they not only keep Herediano at arm’s length defensively, but also get on the scoresheet to put the pressure on their opponent for the second leg. If the Five Stripes can score first, Herediano will be forced to come out of their defensive shell and Atlanta United can take advantage of the exposed space left behind –– especially if they hold that lead going into the second leg in front of their home crowd.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 10:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, with the match set to be streamed live on Yahoo Sports and on the radio at 92.9 The Game. Click here for a full rundown of how to watch, listen, or follow along with the game.