ATLANTA — Ahead of Wednesday night’s Campeones Cup between Atlanta United and Club América, both managers said they are taking the match seriously, and the trophy is important. The second Campeones Cup, which pits the defending MLS Cup champion against the Liga LX Campeón de Campeones winner kick off from Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
“Obviously, the tournament is just starting,” América manager Miguel Herrera said through an interpreter during the pre-game press conference Tuesday. “It’s a new event. This is the second edition, but we’re bringing our best players and we’re taking it with all the seriousness possible, because it’s important for us to win every trophy and every tournament possible.”
Herrera then named a strong starting XI for the game: goalkeeper Óscar Jiménez; defenders Bruno Valdez, Paul Aguilar, Carlos Vargas and Jorge Sánchez; midfielders Guido Rodríguez, Sebastián Córdova, Andrés Ibargüen and Renato Ibarra; and forwards Roger Martínez and Henry Martin.
The lineup features only one change — Martin for Giovani dos Santos — from the team that started a Liga MX game at Toluca Sunday.
Frank de Boer declined to reveal his starters, “but it’s going to be a good formation, that’s for sure,” he said. The one bit of roster news de Boer offered: Winger Héctor “Tito” Villalba is fit to play 30-45 minutes Wednesday.
“We are excited to play this cup,” de Boer told reporters. “We are privileged to play this cup. We are the champions of the United States, and we can play against a fantastic opponent that was the champions of Mexico. … It’s a title. We want it. I want it. I feel in the group that they really want to go for it.”
De Boer did concede that with an important league game at the Portland Timbers Sunday, he must take fatigue into considerations.
“Of course, I have to look also, not only to this game, but also to other games, especially on the physical aspect of players,” the Dutchman said. “But we’re going to have a very strong lineup tomorrow.”
Valdez said “both teams can play well, can play attractive football” and expects the game to be physical. TheClub América defender noted the size of the pitch will give his team a challenge: “The field here is very big, so we’re going to have to run a lot.”
Atlanta has improved under de Boer since a slow start. After opening the MLS season with zero wins in four games, the Five Stripes sit second in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Philadelphia Union with a game in hand. Herrera noted the play of Atlanta’s South America attacking trio as reason for the team’s success.
“Obviously they’ve gotten better over time,” he said. “They’re in great form, at home especially. They understand the coach’s idea of playing and they play attacking football. Obviously they have a great attack with [Gonzalo ‘Pity’] Martínez, [Ezequiel] Barco and Josef [Martínez]. It’s not going to be an easy game. It’s going to be difficult, but we’re confident we can play them head to head and come out on top.”
For dos Santos, América’s No. 10, the game is a somewhat of a return to MLS. Dos Santos signed as a designated with the LA Galaxy in 2015. After four tumultuous years, the Galaxy bought out his contract to make room for Zlatan Ibrahimović. Dos Santos signed with Las Águilas last month and the Mexico international is happy with his new club.
“I’ve obviously had good times and challenging times on the field, but I know what sort of player I am and what I have to offer,” dos Santos said through an interpreter. “I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anybody right now.”
With the U.S. Open Cup final coming in two weeks for Atlanta and the team in the stretch run of its regular season, the significance of this game is debatable. Should the Five Stripes win, they assuredly will point to the victory as a sign of their rise toward being one of the biggest clubs on the continent.
“It’s also a case of history,” de Boer said. “Ajax’s is [around] a lot longer than Atlanta United. We just started, and I think they already did a great job, or the people who raised this club did a great job. I’m very honored to be part of it and I want to raise that bar also, of course, and be part of that history. That’s our goal, as Atlanta United, to be the best club of the United States and hopefully also North and [Central] America. It takes time, but I think we are heading to the right way.”