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Atlanta United would consider international friendly only if it ‘works in our schedule’

As long as Atlanta is embedded in continental competitions, high-profile exhibitions will have to wait.

Aug 14, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) scores on a penalty kick against Club America during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Aug 14, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) scores on a penalty kick against Club America during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — Will Atlanta United ever host an international friendly? Maybe, said president Darren Eales, but as long as the club is involved in continental competitions with silverware on the line, high-profile exhibition matches will be difficult to schedule.

“Let’s take this season, for example,” Eales told Pro Soccer USA ahead of Atlanta’s Campeones Cup win over Club América last month. “We knew we had Campeones Cup, so for us and [the issue of a congested schedule], we just feel that it wasn’t appropriate to try to schedule a game when we had such a busy schedule and an important match where we can win a trophy.”

The Five Stripes already have secured a place in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League, which begins in late February and would run through April if Atlanta were to advance to the final. If the club defends its MLS Cup title this November, it would again host the Campeones Cup next season.

The international friendly is a tried-and-true method of synergistic brand expansion between MLS teams and the foreign opponents they host. Among notable games in recent seasons, Los Angeles Football Club played Borussia Dortmund in front of a buzzing crowd at Banc of California Stadium in May 2018. Two months ago, Aston Villa visited Minnesota United’s Allianz Field and Arsenal traveled to the Colorado Rapids’ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Wednesday night, D.C. United meets Liga MX side Puebla at Audi Field.

Asked about the rumor of a friendly versus River Plate being part of the deal to acquire Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez in January, Eales responded, “We’ve got our close connections with our teams in Argentina. Obviously, we have the ability to schedule those sort of games just because of the connections we have with clubs around the world.”

Eales noted Atlanta would host any potential friendly at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on the venue’s artificial turf: “We’re not going to put grass down.” The opponent would have to agree to that condition, which could be a sticking point considering the reputation of synthetic grass in the soccer world. Italian powerhouse Juventus played on the surface at the 2018 MLS All-Star Game and left with “no complaints at all,” according to Eales.

“In the future, if there becomes a right opportunity, that’s something we’d look at in terms of playing a friendly game at Mercedes-Benz against top European opposition,” Eales said. “But it would all depend on [the] calendar and what we’ve got going on. Obviously for us, the focus is our competitions that we’re in and making sure that we’re giving our best for that. But if something becomes available and works in our schedule, then that would be fun to have.”

Update: September 4, 2019, 4 p.m. Added Eales’ comment on the rumor of an Atlanta United-River Plate friendly.

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