In a wildly dramatic outing at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, Atlanta United came out with the unlikely win against an LD Alajuelense side that hasn’t lost a match in five months and is in mid-season form. The 1-0 victory came with a heavy loss in goalkeeper Brad Guzan, but the players stepped up and can now prepare for the home leg of their Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League clash.
For a club that hasn’t played an official regular season match, Atlanta United faired well against a top-level club that’s in the form of their life (16 matches without a loss). Ezequiel Barco had two decent chances at goal in the first half, but overall, both sides were at a deadlock.
The drama began just before halftime. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan left the penalty area to curb an active breakaway (the closest Atlanta defender was about 20 yards away) but mistimed his tackle. Instead, he ended up taking out Marcel Hernández and completely missed the ball. Alajuelense players were understandably furious and surrounded the referee, who initially pulled out a yellow card. After walking around the pitch for a moment, he finally went to his back pocket and issued a red card. Now here is where things get interesting for Atlanta.
With a goalkeeper getting a red card, you have to substitute a player off in order to bring on another keeper. As fate would have it, Atlanta United just signed goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo to a short-term agreement yesterday. With both Alec Kann and Ben Lundgaard injured, the fate of the club would be left in the hands of the 18-year-old loanee from Lanús.
Just after the start of the second half, more drama was on the horizon as Atlanta United was gifted a penalty after a handball call in the box. Viewing the replay from multiple angles, the ball appeared to have ricocheted off the defender’s face and not his arm.
Even with the 1-0 lead, Atlanta was still down a man, and the Alajuelense attack quickly turned into an onslaught. The Atlanta defense faced 21 crosses and seven corner kicks in the final 45 minutes. Ríos Novo made the debut of a lifetime, making six saves in the second half. “I just felt a lot of happiness and it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” he said after the match.
In addition to Ríos Novo, several Atlanta players made their club debuts including Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra, and Lisandro Lopez who all started. Fan-favorite and goalscoring machine Josef Martinez made his long-awaited return after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
Atlanta and Alajuelense face each other for Leg Two next Tuesday, April 13 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia (6:00 p.m. EST, FS1, TUDN, Sports Radio 92-9 The Game).
Photo: Courtesy of Concacaf