Atlanta United again tries to get past quarterfinals of Champions League

LD Alajuelense Jose Andres Salvatierra (6) stretches for the ball in front of Atlanta United George Bello (21) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
LD Alajuelense Jose Andres Salvatierra (6) stretches for the ball in front of Atlanta United George Bello (21) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Having tried and not succeeded the previous two seasons, Atlanta United will again attempt to advance past the quarterfinals of the Champions League when it hosts Philadelphia in the first leg on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Five Stripes were knocked out of the tournament’s final eight by Mexican powers Monterrey in 2019 and Club America in 2020.

Fullback George Bello said just because Atlanta United is facing an MLS team, and not one from LIGA MX, the team isn’t assuming this game will be less challenging.

“We are treating it as any other game that we need to win,” he said.

Here are a few things to watch:

Home form. This will be the first time in its Champions League history that Atlanta United will host the first leg. In the previous five series, it has always been the visitor for the first leg.

If Atlanta United can continue its home form in the tournament, it will put itself in a good position to advance. Atlanta United is 5-0-0 at home in the Champions League because it has outscored its competitors 10-0. The return leg will be played at Philadelphia on May 4.

Quality Union. While Philadelphia may not be as good as Las Aguilas or Rayados, it is a quality club.

After winning the Supporters’ Shield last season to qualify for the tournament, it dispatched Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa by an aggregate score of 5-0.

The Union haven’t been as successful its first two MLS games, going 0-1-1 with one goal scored and two allowed.

Atlanta United manager Gabriel Heinze said Philadelphia likes to flood the mid-channels with players, which helps them maintain possession. The team will also likely use two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation. A way to counteract two strikers is to play three centerbacks but Heinze has yet to employ that in a traditional sense. Sometimes, defensive midfielder Santiago Sosa will drop between Miles Robinson and Anton Walkes but Sosa isn’t a centerback.

Short rest. Both teams will be playing on Tuesday on just three days rest. Heinze said will rely more on what he sees from his players during Monday’s late training session, and what they tell him, than on data supplied by the team’s sports’ scientists when picking Tuesday’s squad.

Who will make the team. Two players who won’t be available for selection are fullback Brooks Lennon, who left Saturday’s 3-1 win against Chicago at halftime because of a head injury, and midfielder Matheus Rossetto, who is completing quarantine after returning from Brazil.

Heinze has said he doesn’t like to rotate players, which is why the starting 11 against Chicago was the same as the one against Orlando in Week 1. So, if Heinze breaks form and does select new starters, the team should have some fresh legs available.

Striker Josef Martinez played just 23 minutes against Chicago. Franco Ibarra played just three minutes and Erik Lopez two.

A big question is will centerback Alan Franco make his debut? Heinze said the Designated Player needs to play but he will select the players he thinks will help the team. Atlanta United has allowed just one goal in four games across all competitions this season.

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 at New England, 7 p.m., CW

May 9 at Inter Miami, 1 p.m., ABC

May 15 vs. Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 23 at Seattle, 4:30 p.m., Fox

May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN

June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE

June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, B7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE