Starting Eleven: Potential lineup changes for United?

Jason Longshore
February 26, 2019 - 10:57 am

© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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The second legs of the Round of 16 in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League start tonight. None of the three top favorites going into the competition (Monterrey, Tigres, Atlanta United) won on the road in their opener. Santos Laguna posted the biggest result on the road and showed that they are a contender this year, while last year’s runner-up Toronto has a large deficit to try to overturn in their return to Canada.

All of the matches are available at Yahoo Sports to stream with English commentary. Most of the matches are also available live on Univision Deportes with Spanish commentary. Mike Conti and I will be back live on 92.9 The Game on Thursday for Atlanta United’s second leg against Herediano. 5 Stripes Countdown starts at 7pm, kickoff is just after 8pm, and the Full Time Report will follow the final whistle for an hour of postmatch coverage.

1- Toronto vs. Independiente, tonight at 8pm

The thrashing by tournament newcomers Independiente was the biggest surprise of the first week of the tournament. Los Vikingos (I still want to know how a club from Panama became known as the Vikings) shocked Toronto with a 9th minute goal from Abidel Ayarza and took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break. They scored twice early in the second half, Omar Browne in the 48th and Romeesh Ivey in the 52nd. What was most impressive is that they kept looking for goals, and Ivey found another in the 78th to complete the rout.

That four-goal cushion could be necessary tonight in Canada. The earlier possibilities of snow are no longer in the forecast, but the temperature at kickoff could be 19 degrees with 10 mph winds. This small team from Panama, that was playing in the second division in 2017, will have the toughest test of their club’s history tonight in dealing with those types of conditions.

2 - Houston Dynamo vs. Guastatoya, tonight at 8pm

The ageless wonder DaMarcus Beasley scored late for the Dynamo on the road in Guatemala to give them a huge 1-0 win in the first leg. Guastatoya has to score at least once to force extra time, and will likely have to score multiple times on the road to advance. They have only scored more than one goal in a match once so far in ten matches in 2019, they drew 2-2 with Xelajú in league play on Saturday.

3 - Tigres vs. Saprissa, tonight at 10pm

Saprissa put in a strong performance against one of the top teams in the tournament in the first leg, taking the win with a 73rd minute goal from former Montreal Impact winger Johan Venegas. Tigres put El Monstruo Morado (The Purple Monster) under tremendous pressure, taking 24 shots and controlling 63% of the possession. Can Saprissa put up another strong defensive performance tonight, this time at the Estadio Universitario in Mexico?

4 - Santos Laguna vs. Marathón, Wednesday at 8pm

This series is all but over after Los Guerreros went to Honduras and demolished the home side 6-2 last week. The Argentine striker Javier Correa had a hat trick in the first half. Santos is also coming in after a strong league performance over the weekend, blanking fellow CCL side Toluca 4-0. Expect them to rest players tonight with a four-goal cushion and the away goals tiebreaker sealed.

5 - New York Red Bulls vs. Atlético Pantoja, Wednesday at 8pm

It was not easy for the Red Bulls on the road in the Dominican Republic last week as they faced one of this year’s debutants in the tournament. They took the lead on an own goal late in the first half and Daniel Royer stretched the lead to 2-0 with a second half goal. Veteran goalkeeper Miguel Báez made eight saves to keep Atlético Pantoja in the contest. However, the Red Bulls had little to do defensively as Luis Robles did not have to make a save. The Red Bulls should be able to coast in the second leg.

6 - Monterrey vs. Alianza, Wednesday at 10pm

Los Rayados remained unbeaten in 2019, but were surprisingly only able to secure a draw in El Salvador against Alianza last week. They dominated possession at 61%, but were outshot 11-9 by Los Albos Paquidermos (The White Elephants, one of the great nicknames of Concacaf). Alianza is also unbeaten in 2019 and will put forth a strong effort in Mexico to remain that way. However, Monterrey is one of the largest clubs in this hemisphere. It would be one of the biggest surprises in the tournament’s history if they are unable to advance from the Round of 16.

7 - Toluca vs. Sporting Kansas City, Thursday at 10pm

Peter Vermes’ squad posted a big win in the first leg against struggling Toluca. After Los Diablos Rojos lost again on the weekend, losing three matches in the week with a combined scoreline of 10-0, they fired manager Hernan Cristante. The Estadio Nemesio Diez is one of the toughest places to play in Concacaf, but it is extremely doubtful that Toluca can regain their past glories after the difficult week they have had. A smart performance from Sporting Kansas City will see them through.

8 - Atlanta United vs. Herediano, Thursday at 8pm

Jose Guillermo Ortiz’s goal in the 9th minute, after an individual mistake from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, turned the first leg on its head in Costa Rica last week. Randall Azofeifa stretched the lead to 2-0 before Julian Gressel’s response before halftime cut the scoreline to 2-1. At that point, Atlanta looked to be in good shape to post a strong second half performance as they had overcome some of the chaos of the early stages. However, a foul from George Bello lead to Azofeifa’s free kick that picked out Esteban Granados on the back post to make the lead 3-1 in the 50th minute. Darlington Nagbe and Tito Villalba both created a spark with their inclusion, Nagbe forced Daniel Cambronero into the save of the night and Villalba rattled the outside of the far post in stoppage time. A 2-0 win for the Five Stripes would see them advance on the away goal tiebreaker. If Herediano scores, it gets trickier. A 3-1 Atlanta win would send the match to penalties. Atlanta would have to win by three goals to advance outright if Herediano scores on Thursday night.

9 - Just a little patience

We discussed the importance of escaping the first 15 minutes last week. When that did not happen, the match became incredibly frantic. Atlanta’s philosophy requires patient build-up play in order to allow all of the players to advance forward and remain connected. When Atlanta’s lines became disconnected, Herediano’s quick vertical play caused problems (as seen on the second goal conceded). The Five Stripes looked their best at the end of the match, when they took more time with the ball in possession to create good looks at Herediano’s goal. The 3-1 deficit might lead you to thinking Atlanta needs to play faster in the second leg, instead they need to use a little patience.

10 - Sharper connections

Atlanta had 59% of the possession in the first half, but still turned the ball over too easily with mistimed and poorly weighted passes. While some of that can be put down to the quick turf at the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero in Costa Rica, it can also be blamed on Atlanta struggling to find the pace of play. A match like last week, where the opponent is giving you their absolute best with their backs against the wall, cannot be replicated in training or in preseason. Atlanta struggled to match Herediano’s pace of play. Now that they have a reference point, the Five Stripes have to find something resembling midseason form on Thursday.

11 - Lineup changes?

Lots of debate centered around the decision at left wing back with George Bello getting the nod over Brek Shea. Both shared time at the position in preseason. Will Frank de Boer continue with the teenager Bello or see if Shea’s veteran experience can help provide a little of that needed patience?

Darlington Nagbe and Tito Villalba both gave strong performances off the bench in Heredia, will they be considered for starting roles on Thursday? If they are, what changes will be necessary to accommodate their inclusion?