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Prekrap: Atlanta United vs C.S. Herediano - Concacaf Champions League Leg 2

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There’s still hope

Leg 1 was not pretty. Atlanta United got routed by giving up ugly goals and giving its opponents acres of space in central midfield, and Chris McCann wasn’t even anywhere near the field! The team has dug itself a hole but hope is not lost. If Atlanta United comes away with a 2-0 win, the away goal breaks the aggregate tie and they advance. Things get trickier if Herediano score, a 2-1 Atlanta win puts the Costa Ricans through on a better overall aggregate, but a 3-1 Atlanta win sends the match straight to penalties - an Atlanta United specialty.

thursday, Thursday, THURSDAY

The Five Stripes will play in Kennesaw as Mercedes Benz Stadium needs to recover from Monster Jam and get ready for motocross. If you missed it, the biggest thing to happen at MBS since Atlanta United won MLS Cup was a sight to behold:

I like to think the trucks just drove in circles for two hours like that and then everyone went home and filled in their Dirty South Soccer MLS Fantasy league teams.

Anyway, I digress. Atlanta United is in trouble, but help is on the way - maybe. The team is at its other home away from home and should get a big lift from the crowd in the first home match since winning MLS Cup. Not only that, but on the field the Five Stripes should benefit from Darlington Nagbe starting. The midfielder’s importance to the team cannot be understated as his ability to take care of the ball and pick out passes to get the attackers into dangerous positions in the final third will be critical. Interestingly, Nagbe came on for winger Ezequiel Barco and not a central midfielder in leg 1. If that is any indication of how Frank de Boer plans to use him this year, the possession issue may be moot.

Other changes to the roster may be on the way, perhaps at left back, but the center of the field will make or break Atlanta’s comeback chances. Along that line, the defense needs to be better in the match. A single goal for the visitors changes the entire calculus for the Five Stripes and especially Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez needs to have a strong game. As Josh Bagriansky discussed earlier in the week, this wasn’t entirely the center backs’ fault as the defensive press is still being worked out under FdB.

Not a midweek mejenga

MARTA may not service Kennesaw, but it seems likely that there will be a bus parked in the northern suburbs on Thursday night. Herediano has a huge advantage heading into the match and has every reason to do what Atlanta United did away to the New York Red Bulls in the 2018 MLS playoffs. With the visitors having every reason to bunker, Atlanta United will have to make effective use of the possession the team keeps in the match.

In leg 1 the Costa Rican side committed 17 fouls and went in for 22 successful tackles. Atlanta should expect them to bring that same physical style into the second match. While the goal may be to get under the home side’s skin, if Atlanta keeps the visitors pinned back it may have an unexpected consequence. We’ve seen in pre-season that Pity Martinez can find the back of the net with his free kicks. Barco has a knack for drawing fouls in good spots for set pieces and, along with some much needed luck, that could make a difference for Atlanta to steal a goal in the match.

While they may not play as high of a defensive line away from home, Herediano saw how disorganized the Atlanta defense was in Costa Rica. If they can find space again between the Atlanta central midfield duo and center backs, should that be how FdB lines up his squad again, the team could once more put the defense on its heels and convert a chance for a crucial goal in the match.

It would be ideal for the Atlanta to keep a clean sheet, but failing that, the attack may need to pick up the slack as the team figures out how to play when not in possession. If things don’t work out, at least the regular season begins this weekend against (oh, no) DC United and there’s motocross at the Benz!