Atlanta United entered Thursday’s match with a mountain to climb: a two-goal deficit against a team in midseason form in a tricky elimination game. With their backs against the wall, they put in a performance worthy of the star on their crest, dominating CS Herediano in a 4-0 rout in front of a rowdy home crowd at Fifth Third Bank Stadium to secure their spot in the next round.
Frank de Boer opted for tactical tweaks over wholesale changes after last week’s disappointing performance in the first leg. Brek Shea came in for the injured George Bello on the left flank, and Darlington Nagbe made his debut in the middle, coming in for Jeff Larentowicz at central midfield. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez, Michael Parkhurst (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Brek Shea (LWB), Eric Remedi (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Ezequiel Barco (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Pity Martinez (FWD).
The Five Stripes needed a quick start to get out of the two-goal deficit, and they couldn’t have started much quicker. It all started with a spark on the left flank from Brek Shea, who curled in a dangerous cross that was just inches past the head of Josef Martinez. But the ball had too much heat for the Herediano defender, whose lose touch was volleyed home from close range by Josef for his first of the season –– and at 47 seconds, the quickest goal in the history of the club.
But Atlanta United needed more than that and they piled on the pressure, and it only took a few minutes to get another. It was a nifty move on the right, with Julian Gressel poking it to Ezequiel Barco, who swiveled and put a perfect reverse pass into the path of Gressel, who poked it past the goalkeeper and inside the far post for the 2-0 score on the night, and that’s the score they would take into the half.
That scoreline would have been enough to go through, with Atlanta United’s away goal the tiebreaker in a 3-3 aggregate tied scoreline. But the tie still on a razor’s edge the Five Stripes kept pushing for an insurance goal. Their pressure would pay off less than 20 minutes into the second half, with Eric Remedi’s beautiful through ball finding Brek Shea behind the defense on the left flank, and his first-time cross finding Josef Martinez in the middle to tap home into an empty net for his second of the night.
The Five Stripes back line looked a different squad than the one plagued by miscommunications in leg one, and kept Herediano at arm’s length the entire match. In all it was a dominant performance from front to back, and the defense got the goal their performance deserved just before full time, with Leandro González Pirez heading home a cross from Ezequiel Barco to make it a 4-0 score line and a comfortable final ten minutes.
It was exactly the performance the red, black and gold needed after a wobbly first match of the season, and a statement of intent for a squad with ambitions of going deep into the Concacaf Champions League. And it all started with the game-changing support in the stands, with the 17’s once again a game-changer in a rowdy and proud night. The reigning MLS champs will now face Liga MX giants Monterrey in the next round. More details will be announced soon, so stay tuned to Atlanta United’s social media channels for all the latest news.