Atlanta United booked their place in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals with a resounding 4-0 win over Herediano at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Thursday. The Five Stripes responded to their dreadful first leg performance with a showing fitting of a champion. They dominated the entire match and left no doubt as to who deserved to advance. Here are a few thoughts on what we can take away from this match.
Keep Your Composure
The result was fantastic, but this team needs to do a better job at keeping a level head when things don’t go their way. The referee in this match was truly awful, there’s no denying that. That doesn’t excuse some of the recklessness we saw in the first half. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez played extremely risky after receiving a questionable yellow card early on, almost daring the ref to send him off.
There was also one occasion where Pity Martinez flew in on a tackle in the defensive end with no danger present at all. It appeared as if the ref might reach for his back pocket and show a straight red, but thankfully it was only a yellow.
No matter how heated things get with the officials or the other team, this squad needs to do a better job of toeing the line. In Concacaf there’s always the chance that something sparks a bust up. You cannot afford to put your team a man down over something completely avoidable.
There were three players who I think should get some love for this match. Obviously Josef Martinez scoring two goals is always good, but he just did his job and put the ball in the net like he should have. The three I’d like to put a spotlight on are Ezequiel Barco, Julian Gressel and Miles Robinson.
Barco was hungry and determined throughout the match. He recorded two assists and looked a danger to score all night. While he didn’t convert his chances, he showed the aggressiveness and directness that we’ve been begging for. If he keeps this up, it will be a great season for the youngster.
Let’s agree right now that Julian Gressel should never play another position besides RM/RWB. He is a constant threat both in setting up goals and converting them. His finish on the second goal was well taken and he should’ve added an assist but Brek Shea missed the net on a great centered ball. If he stays on that right flank in the 3-4-3 this season, he will score his fair share of goals and could even be among the team leaders. With all the attention paid to the attacking trident, he constantly has tons of space and the quality to finish chances.
Last but not least, Miles Robinson is on the come up, y’all. Frank de Boer sung the 2017 No. 2 overall draft pick’s praises all preseason and he showed tonight why. I can only remember one bad touch from him all night. He was crisp and clean on the ball and sturdy in the tackle. It remains to be seen where he fits when Franco Escobar returns, but he’s clearly ahead of Jeff Larentowicz on the centerback depth chart and that’s a pretty big accomplishment.
Not Even Peak Chemistry
For as good of a performance as this was, it’s clear that it wasn’t even the best they could’ve played. Particularly the front three of Barco and the Martinezes. They’re still working out the kinks, trying to learn each other’s tendencies and preferences. Once those three are all on the same page, this attack will strike fear into anyone who comes in its path.
This is what we wanted, right? Herediano was a very good first test in Concacaf, but now it gets real. Monterrey is the first Liga MX opponent that Atlanta United will ever play in a competitive environment. They are one of the better teams in Mexico and have quality all throughout their squad just like Atlanta does.
The club was built to be the best and you cannot call yourselves that until you beat the best. In this region Mexican teams reign supreme. Knocking off a Liga MX giant in this competition will be a big step in the direction of claiming the Concacaf crown. This will be fun.
What to do in D.C.?
Now that advancement in Concacaf is secured, we’re about to find out just how much the club values this competition. The quarterfinals kick off midweek next week with the first leg in Mexico. It would be ridiculous to expect the starters to play in D.C. on Sunday then fly back to Atlanta then fly to Mexico and start again a few days later.
Common sense tells us that De Boer should field a reserve-laden side for the MLS opener. It’s not ideal to play a weaker side in league play, but the timing of this tournament leaves the club with little choice, unless they are willing to risk fatigue.
So, what will they do? Our money is on the reserves getting a chance to show what they can do.