Atlanta United fell 3-1 to CS Herediano in Leg 1 of Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League in Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero. Atlanta United came on to the pitch with a new manager, new players, and a new formation to test the Champions League waters in Costa Rica. They would find out early that Herediano was not up for experiments, they meant business.
The first goal came in the 7′. Leandro González-Pirez attempted to head the ball back to Brad Guzan but didn’t have enough force behind it. With a tiny window of opportunity, José Ortíz seized his chance, won the free ball, and chipped the keeper.
The next goal came in the 34′. The way Ortíz played on Randall Azofeifa was textbook. He held up two United players on his own while two Herediano was on the attack. His hold-up play allowed time for a through ball to be onside and it was over after that. Two Herediano players broke down the back line to make a nightmare 2 v keeper scenario. Azofeifa held nothing back with his relentless speed, took on Guzan himself, and scored their second goal.
In the 40′, Atlanta would pull one back. Julian Gressel intended a cross inside the box to a teammate but took a deflection from a defender and landed in goal. They cut the lead in half and were able to nab the ever important “away” goal (which might come into play in leg two).
But five minutes is all it took for the Ticos to seal the deal. Just outside the 18, Azofeifa sent a beautiful lob into the box from a free kick that found the foot of Esteban Granados. The goal was a carbon copy of Franco Escobar’s from last year’s MLS Cup win.
It didn’t take long to realize that Atlanta United was in for their toughest competition yet. CS Herediano had speed, precision, and an unreal level of confidence. Not from just a player or two, I’m talking the starting eleven. The tricks and dribbling that I witnessed were akin to what you’d see on FIFA 19. But this was a good thing for the five stripes. They practically steamrolled their way to a league title last year, but now, they’re going toe-to-toe with the Liga FPD champions (the top league in Costa Rica).
To say CS Herediano impressed would be an insult. The team played like a well-oiled machine with numerous standouts on the night. The most embarrassing of which was Jimmy Marín. There were other plays who were confident in their abilities as well but Marín was just disrespectful. His dribbling prowess was unbelievable, nutmegging and dribbling around players at will. I wasn’t the only one that noticed either as fans on social media were quick to boast “Marín > Pity.”
So how did all of this happen? For starters, we played a defending champion club that’s heading into Matchday 12 this Sunday while tonight was our first professional, competitive match since we won the MLS Cup in December 2018. They’re halfway through their season while ours doesn’t begin until March 3. Then, there’s the complicated formula of our formation plus player selection.
Frank de Boer rolled out a 3-4-3 formation, something we should not have experimented with in a Champions League match. Clearly not knowing what was waiting for them in Costa Rica, that three-man back line got destroyed tonight. There were too many occasions where not just one or two players, but even three Herediano players would beat the offside trap and breakthrough the backline to force pressure on United keeper Brad Guzan. The Costa Rican players were in total control and they knew it. The fans knew it, we knew it, even the Univision Deportes commentators knew it. “Welcome to Central America Frank,” they said in jest after allowing the second goal.
Shots: 16-14 Herediano
Shots on Target: 7-3 Herediano
Corner kicks: 6-4 Atlanta
Fouls committed: 17-11 Herediano
Clearances: 19-15 Atlanta
Offside: 2-2 Herediano
Possession: 53-47 Atlanta
Passing Accuracy: 80-80
Now that we’ve seen the firepower that “El Team” is working with, the five stripes have to make adjustments. First off, we are used to playing with a crowded midfield. The 3-4-3 formation tonight was very flat and didn’t feature the necessary players to make it work. A 4-2-3-1 or even a 3-5-2 would’ve better suited the lads.
Although his mental slip allowed the first goal, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez is my man of the match for the five stripes. The man was a straight up engine tonight having to work overtime for the lack of support in the back (I will say he shouldn’t have pressed so high). His clearance in the 60′ and his precision tackle in the 65′ sealed it for me.
George Bello was filling in for the injured Franco Escobar and could’ve had a better night. Eric Remedi did the best he could with his central defending partner Darlington Nagbe coming off the bench. Ezequiel Barco was on the left wing instead of the midfield and Julian Gressel was playing behind Pity Martinez; things we saw for the first time.
But out of all the things I saw tonight, two things were clear: A) They were definitely missing Greg Garza tonight and B) Miguel Almirón’s absence could be felt immediately.
It’s times like this where you need the comforts of home and the advantages that come with it. Unfortunately, because of scheduling, the second leg will be played next Thursday, Feb. 28, at Fifth Third Bank Stadium and not Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta has to lay it all out next week in Kennesaw because if they lose, they’re out.
Photos: Courtesy of ATLUTD