If Atlanta United wants to become the greatest team in North America, as manager Frank de Boer said Tuesday and has been said many times in the past by the club’s leaders, defeating Club America on Wednesday in the Campeones Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium would be another step.
The Five Stripes have won one trophy for on-field performance by its senior team: last year’s MLS Cup, earned in the team’s second season in the league.
Club America has won more than 40, including most recently the Campeon de Campeones, in which it defeated Tigres to become the LIGA MX champ and punched its ticket to playing the MLS champ in the Campeones Cup.
“It’s a case of history,” de Boer said. “We just started. We are already doing a great job, people who raised the club did a great job. I’m honored to be apart of it and raise that history. Hopefully, we can do what they did and are still doing.
“That’s our goal to be the best club in the United States and North America. It takes time, but we are heading in the right way.”
Based upon number of times (at least three) that Club America manager Miguel Herrera mentioned wanting to win the Campeones Cup in his 12-minute interview Tuesday, Atlanta United’s challenge will be immense.
“The tournament is just starting,” Herrera said. “But we are bringing out best players and taking it with the most seriousness possible. It’s important to win every trophy possible.”
Club America is four games into the Apertura, or opening, part of the LIGA MX season. The Eagles are 3-1-0 with eight goals for and three against. Its lineup features numerous players who consistently represent their national teams, including Roger Martinez (Colombia), Renato Ibarro (Ecuador), Bruno Valdez (Paraguay) and Gio dos Santos (Mexico), among others.
“It’s going to be a difficult game,” Valdez said. “The field here is very big. It will be a physical game in that sense.”
Atlanta United has taken its measure against a club from Mexico twice this season in the CONCACAF Champions League. It was beaten by Monterrey 3-0 in Mexico in the first leg in March. Atlanta United trailed 1-0 until the final 20 minutes. It bounced back a week later to defeat Rayados 1-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“This squad was better than Monterrey last season, which means we have to be even better than we were at the beginning of the season,” de Boer said. “It’s a title. I want it. I feel in the group that they want to go for it.”
The defeat to Monterrey shouldn’t be seen as abnormal.
Clubs from Mexico typically dominate those from MLS. Mexican clubs have won the past 14 Champions Leagues, three of the four teams in the semifinals of this year’s inaugural League Cup, a tournament featuring four clubs from Mexico and four from MLS, are from Mexico and Tigres defeated Toronto to win last year’s first Campeones Cup.
Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said he hopes that the next collective bargaining agreement between the MLS Players Association and the league will take off some of the financial restrictions that serve to handicap its clubs. The current CBA expires in January 2020. To illustrate the difference in financial inequities, the website transfermarkt.co.uk values Club America’s roster at $66.3 million for 23 players, or $2.88 million per player. Atlanta United’s is $60.4 million for 27 players, or $2.23 million per player. Monterrey’s is $91.25 million. It may not seem like a lot, but it could be the difference in Atlanta United winning another trophy.
“Mexican teams set the bar in North America,” Parkhurst said.
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