Atlanta United is fighting for their Concacaf Champions League destiny as they look to avenge their 3-1 first-leg loss against Costa Rican champions CS Herediano on Thursday. The Five Stripes will be looking to right the wrongs that led to a tough start in Central America, and will be hoping a friendly home crowd can propel them to the win they need to move on to the next round of international competition.
It all starts at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday February 28th. Click here for all the information on how to tune in to the match.
Atlanta United (-2 GD)
Atlanta United started their Concacaf Champions League campaign on a down note, but they knew the challenge the opponent posed coming in. Hailed by outsiders as a tournament favorite, the players repeatedly voiced their respect for a Herediano side that has historically been very strong at home. And while it wasn’t the performance the team wanted, a crucial road goal gives them a major chance to advance now that they are back in the U.S. and on their home pitch.
Julian Gressel’s deflected effort just before halftime means the Five Stripes need just two goals to go through if they can keep their opponents out on the other end. There are plenty of attacking weapons that can chip in to make that happen. Josef Martinez is still hungry to score his first goal in competitive play in 2019, while Pity Martinez just behind him will be eager to get his scoring account started for his new club. But the key to Atlanta United’s attacking approach has been the various ways they can hurt you –– and Ezequiel Barco, Tito Villalba, or even one of the fullbacks flying up the flank are all more than capable of making a game-changing play.
But just as important is the necessity to keep a clean sheet on the defensive end. Miles Robinson, Michael Parkhurst and Leandro González Pirez made up a back three the last time out, with George Bello, Eric Remedi, Jeff Larentowicz and Julian Gressel lining up in front of him. Frank de Boer may believe that same core group will be ready for redemption, or he has the options to make a change with the likes of Brek Shea and Darlington Nagbe on the bench in the last match. Whoever lines up, it will be crucial to maintain the defensive shape –– because keeping a clean sheet will mean they only need two goals to advance, instead of three or four. While goals are crucial, good defense is just as much so in order to stay in striking distance of moving to the next round.
CS Herediano (+2 GD)
CS Herediano proved how tough of a challenge they can be for any team in North America last week, with an energized performance on their home pitch that put Atlanta United in a two-goal hole. They’re a strong, physical side that can go toe to toe with anybody, but will face a new challenge altogether when they travel to Georgia to face the Five Stripes in front of the 17’s.
They have a strong pairing up front led by former DC United forward José Ortiz, who opened the scoring last week. He and youngster Aldo Magaña used their athleticism to be a constant thorn in the Atlanta United defenders’ sides, and used a bumpy surface to their advantage to disrupt Atlanta United’s rhythm and spark counterattacking runs the other direction. But their main danger man is Jimmy Marín, the 22-year-old winger who acts as the primary creative sparkplug for the side. The Five Stripes will have to limit his time on the ball, but if they can do that while blocking Herediano’s opportunities on the counter, they could stifle the focal point of their attack.
But in order to turn the tie back around, Atlanta United will have to score at least twice on the Herediano back line. While the Costa Rican giants were formidable at home last week, they’ve shown they’re vulnerable when they leave their home pitch, including a 3-2 loss this weekend on the road against Costa Rican rivals San Carlos. While the Five Stripes didn’t hit their usual electric form in front of goal, they did have a few chances that go in on another day. Another week of training for the Five Stripes to shake off the rust as well as a friendly crowd in the stands could go a long way toward finding that final pass to get the goals the need in the return leg.
Atlanta United may be in a two-goal hole, but as coach Frank de Boer said, there’s still half the tie left to play and plenty left to fight for –– and a good performance could very well still send them through to the second round. The match kicks off at 8 p.m. EST at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw University and will be streamed live at Yahoo! Sports or 92.9 The Game. Or listen in wherever you are on the Official Atlanta United App.