Atlanta United enters Leg 2 of their opening Concacaf Champions League matchup after a tough result in Costa Rica, currently down 3-1 on aggregate, but advancing is a story of two legs. Thursday, they will host the reigning Costa Rican Champions at Kennesaw State’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium in front of a roaring crowd decked out in red and black for a chance at redemption and a spot in the quarterfinals. Click here for details on how to follow the match.
Ahead of the reverse fixture Thursday night, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Secure the Clean Sheet
While Atlanta United didn’t return from their first international trip with the result they wanted, they didn’t leave empty-handed either. Julian Gressel’s deflected effort just before the halftime whistle in Costa Rica was massive and could ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not the Five Stripes advance. An away goal in their pocket means if Atlanta United can score at least two goals and keep a clean sheet at home on Thursday, they will take the matchup over Herediano even with a 3-3 aggregate score – as the first tiebreaker is away goals scored. Allowing a goal or goals would open up a number of potential outcomes, so maintaining the clean sheet would go a long way in their quest to reach the next round.
With the departure of Miguel Almirón, Atlanta needed to fill their playmaking void in the center of the park and they found their man in Argentine midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez. The reigning South American Player of the Year put his quickness, craftiness and his soccer IQ on full display during their preseason stint and there were glimpses of his potential last Thursday in Costa Rica. But if they’re going to redeem themselves in the reverse fixture, they will need to feed Pity and get him on the ball more often in order to reestablish the free-flowing, electric attack that the Atlanta United supporters are used to witnessing. And now with a competitive match under his belt at his new club, there’s no telling what to expect from the talented man they call “loco” (crazy).
Test the Goalkeeper
Last week’s performance was not up to Atlanta United’s standards or 2019 potential and the players emphasized the fact after the match. But looking back on the 90 minutes, they still created opportunities to earn the result. ATL UTD finished the match with 14 shots but only managed to tally three of them on target, only truly testing the Herediano keeper with a curling Darlington Nagbe effort from outside the area –– and fingertips were all that kept it out. In the reverse fixture, if Atlanta United can take advantage of their opportunities and get more attempts on frame, they will have a better chance to bag multiple goals and salvage their position in the aggregate scoreline.
Atlanta United and CS Herediano will kick off Leg 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, February 28th at KSU’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium. You can watch the match at Yahoo Sports or listen live at 92.9 The Game or via the Atlanta United App. For all details on how to tune in and support the Five Stripes, click here.