Atlanta United advances, secures heavyweight showdown against Monterrey

Mike Conti
March 01, 2019 - 2:16 pm
Atlanta United players

Eric Rossitch / ATLANTA UNITED

Categories: 

In their MLS Cup-winning campaign of 2018, Atlanta United never lost back-to-back matches.  That encouraging trend continued Thursday night with a 4-0 win over Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16.

Now, Atlanta United faces one of its biggest opportunities in club history.  One that ranks right up there with playing for the MLS Cup.  They will have an opportunity to go toe-to-toe against a giant of Liga MX in a two-leg quarterfinal series that will command immense media attention in Mexico.

But the opportunity to square up against Monterrey creates tremendous logistical challenges for Frank de Boer and his technical staff.  How many resources can Atlanta United afford to pour into its Major League Soccer opener Sunday night in Washington DC, while maintaining a viable chance to get a result in Mexico three nights later?  That is going to be the debate over the weekend.  Frankly, I believe Atlanta United supporters will be at peace with a decision to play a second choice lineup in Washington (if necessary) to ensure the best possible group can play in Monterrey.

The weather conditions Sunday night in Washington may play a large role in that decision.  At best, the match will be played in a cold downpour.  At worst, it could be played in the midst of a major winter storm.  On a natural surface, it may be too risky to play people like Julian Gressel, Miles Robinson, Michael Parkhurst, and even Brad Guzan, who have already played 180 minutes in the CONCACAF Champions League.  This could create an opportunity for Mikey Ambrose, Alec Kann, Romario Williams, and the newly-signed Anderson Asiedu to backfill those spots.  In my opinion, that’s a lineup that could still get a result in Washington, especially if the pitch is in bad shape.

Thursday night demonstrated that Atlanta United already has some lineup depth, which will benefit this club during a congested stretch of matches from now through March 17.  Brek Shea played brilliantly as a left wingback, and will likely platoon with George Bello over this stretch.  The fact that Tito Villalba can be brought off the bench remains an enormous luxury, and there is no doubt he will be in line for some starts soon.  The same can be said for Jeff Larentowicz.  And we still have yet to see Franco Escobar and Kevin Kratz return from injury.

The upcoming series with Monterrey may be seen as a referendum on Major League Soccer, but the results in the CONCACAF Champions League have already been positive.  All four quarterfinal series feature an MLS club.  Toronto was the only MLS entrant knocked out in the round of 16.  Ironically, if Atlanta United is able to subdue Monterrey, a possible semifinal matchup looms against Sporting Kansas City.​