Atlanta United FC begins its quest for more trophies on Thursday, when the club embarks on its first campaign in the Concacaf Champions League.
On paper, many might assume the Five Stripes can easily best their first-round opponent, CS Herediano of Costa Rica.
But Los Florenses are no pushovers and this Atlanta team looks a bit different than the one that bulldozed its way through the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs.
Tactician manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, firecracker midfielder Miguel Almiron and sturdy defenders Greg Garza and Chris McCann are out. Frank de Boer, Brek Shea, Florentin Pogba and Pity Martinez are in.
But the mission for this ambitious club remains the same: win trophies.
The Concacaf Champions League is the first that Atlanta United will have a shot at in 2019.
How to watch
Pro Soccer USA’s full breakdown of how to watch each match is here. Atlanta’s games vs. CS Herediano can be streamed on the Yahoo Sports app, or watched on Univision Deportes, beginning at 10 p.m. eastern.
Who is CS Herediano?
The club was founded in 1921 and is based in Heredia, Costa Rica. It plays in Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero, a stadium built in 1951 that seats about 8,700 people. The club’s colors are red, yellow and black.
Herediano is managed by Hernán Medford, who had a long career as a professional player in Europe, Costa Rica and Mexico. Medford has also managed the national teams of Costa Rica and Honduras.
Who are Herediano’s top players?
A few of the key players for the club are Yeltsin Tejeda, Aldo Magana, Esteban Granados and José Guillermo Ortiz.
Tejeda, 26, wears the No. 10 for Herediano and often plays as a defensive midfielder. Tejeda has 51 caps for the Costa Rican national team and has played in six World Cup games.
Magana is a 22-year-old Mexican forward who scored in Herediano’s last match, Feb. 17 versus Pérez Zeledón. He came up in Leon’s academy.
Granados, 33, is Herediano’s captain and has 341 caps for the club. Like Tejeda, he often plays in the defensive midfield.
Ortiz, 26, is another forward for Herediano, who has 11 goals and six assists in his last 38 matches. Ortiz has seven caps for the Costa Rican national team and spent a brief spell in MLS on loan with D.C. United. He appeared in 16 D.C. United games in 2017, scoring once.
In Herediano’s last match, it played a 4-2-2-2 lineup with two defensive midfielders, a pair of wingers and a pair of strikers in addition to its four-man backline. Herediano fell 3-1 earlier this month in a preseason friendly against the Portland Timbers. Ortiz, Tejeda and Granados did not play in the match.
Who will play for Atlanta United?
This will be de Boer’s first look at his club in a match with real consequences, so fans should expect him to turn in a lineup card with a first-choice starting XI, or something close to it.
That could mean a 3-4-3 with Brad Guzan in goal; Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson as the centerbacks; Brek Shea and Julian Gressel as the wingbacks; Jeff Larentowicz and Eric Remedi as the defensive midfielders; Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez as attacking midfielders; and Josef Martinez as the striker.
The question will be: What will de Boer do late in the game with substitutions? Will he give starter-quality players Darlington Nagbe and Hector Villalba 20 or 30 minutes of playing time? If the game seems sealed up with 15 minutes to go, will he insert youngsters George Bello and Andrew Carleton? If the Five Stripes need a spark late, will Romario Williams or Gordon Wild get a chance to prove themselves as MLS-caliber goal-scorers?
Atlanta United wins comfortably with goals from Josef, Pity and Gressel, but the defense lets a goal slip through. The Five Stripes take a 3-1 victory.