Gabriel Heinze’s memorable debut as Atlanta United manager against Alajuelense boasted a ninety minutes that was filled with a straight red to Brad Guzan, a questionable penalty game-winner, and the unexpected debut of an 18-year-old keeper. After the dust finally settled, however, Atlanta was able to escape the Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto with a narrow 1-0 victory. The Five Stripes will look to finish the job in much smoother fashion when it hosts Alajuelense at the Fifth Third Bank Stadium in the second leg.
For the first forty minutes last Tuesday, Atlanta was by far the better side, stringing together passes and keeping Alajuelense on the back foot. The visitors only lacked a final third product and couldn’t find a way to consistently test the Costa Rican side’s goal. Going down to ten men naturally meant Atlanta took a more defensive approach to the second half, but the opening 40 minutes are worthy of a deeper delve. Assuming all goes to plan and there are no more wayward goalkeepers this time around, Heinze’s style will be even further explored. The Five Stripes will have to keep its MLS Regular Season opener in mind, as it visits Orlando City on Saturday.
Alajuelense doesn’t appear to be dealing with any negative effects from its first loss of the season and beat Grecia by a score of 4-1 over the weekend to go nine points clear in the Primera Division. Los Leones will be hard-pressed to carry that momentum into Tuesday as it will be without several key players due to coronavirus restrictions. According to CRC Futbol, Bryan Ruiz, Johan Venegas, Alex Lopez, Leonel Moreira, and Barlon Sequeira (all starters in the first leg) won’t be making the trip to Georgia.
For #Alajuelense, this would also apply to Leonel Moreira, Ian Smith, Bryan Ruiz, Alex López, Johan Venegas and Barlon Sequeira.— CRC Futbol (@crcfutbol) April 11, 2021
These are massive, MASSIVE blows for both Costa Rican clubs.
Predicted Starting XI
Marcelino Moreno returns from suspension and could replace Emerson Hyndman, while Jurgen Damm should get the nod at right wing over Jake Mulraney. Josef Martinez may not quite be ready for 90 minutes and Orlando City coming on Saturday, a second-half cameo may be on the cards for the Venezuelan. As for goalkeeper, Roco Rios Novo is not on the roster according to the club website after his four-day contract expired. Teams are allowed to sign a player to a max of four such deals over the course of the season, however, and the youngster certainly deserves a start after his six save performance. If not, Ben Lundgaard is the favorite to start as Alec Kann recovers from injury.
Prediction: Atlanta United 2-0 Alajuelense
The introduction of Moreno and potentially Damm to the lineup coupled with Alajuelense’s absences should make this a more straight-forward affair than the previous outing. Goals from Ezequiel Barco and Lisandro Lopez will push Atlanta into the quarter-finals for the third time in as many Concacaf Champions League appearances.