Atlanta United not giving up hope in Champions League

Atlanta United manager Gabriel Heinze said on Tuesday the challenge of turning over its 3-0 deficit to Philadelphia is “everything.”

“Because of the way I saw my team playing, it gave me a lot of energy,” he said. “I really believe in my football players.”

Belief was outdone by Philadelphia’s Andre Blake on Tuesday in the first leg defeat at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And if the Union’s goalkeeper continues to play the way he did on Tuesday, the Five Stripes may not have a chance when the teams meet in the second leg on May 4 in Chester, Pa.

Blake made seven saves, many at point-blank range, in holding off the Five Stripes long enough on Tuesday to give his team a chance that it capitalized on with three goals in the second half. He’s a big reason why the team allowed three goals just once last season.

“We are built to bend but not break,” Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin said. “To do that you need a great goalkeeper.”

Atlanta United midfielder Santiago Sosa said the team wasn’t frustrated that it didn’t score on any of its five shots on goal in the first half and that he believes the team can turn around its deficit.

“It’s football,” he said. “They scored three goals on us today. We could do the same in the return leg.”

There is precedent. Club America rallied from a 3-0 deficit in its first leg against Herediano to advance in 2014-15. A difference between that result and Tuesday’s was that Las Aguilas were beaten 3-0 on the road, not at home.

That is the only time in 16 instances since the tournament became the Champions League in 2008-09 that a team has rallied from being three goals behind after the first leg in a knockout round in the tournament, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Yardley.

It’s very obvious, but doing so will require that Atlanta United score. In its five games, it has scored 1, 1, 0, 3 and 0 goals. One goal came from a penalty kick. One came in the dying seconds. Three against Chicago came on a once-in-a-lifetime strike by Ezequiel Barco, an own goal, and a late goal by Emerson Hyndman.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Heinze said he wasn’t worried about his team’s offense, which created 10 chances on Tuesday. Philadelphia created seven.

“The worry would exist if we didn’t have the chances,” he said. “More than worry, this means we need to keep working to finish chances. The final result is a concern. But my concern goes a different way.”

Atlanta United supporters expressed dissatisfaction with Jurgen Damm, who finished with a team-high four chances created but seemed to be the focal point of the team’s offense throughout the game. Among the team’s starters, he finished with the second-lowest passing percentage (82.1) and completed four of his 13 crosses.

Heavily right-footed, the Union’s defenders would often try to make him go back to his left. Still, he was quick enough to create space to get off crosses. Damm continued to get into good positions, but his crosses often went over everyone’s head to the other side of the penalty box.

As a team, Atlanta United put in 17 crosses, second this season only to the 19 it played against Chicago in its 3-1 win last week. It completed 28 percent on Tuesday.

With crosses flying over his head, Josef Martinez took just two shots, putting one on goal.

“Jurgen is growing just like the team,” Heinze said. “Forgive me, but there are two wings and one central zone. Why did we play on the wings? Because the middle was covered. But it’s not like we used the wings more today than in other games.”

The other winger, Marcelino Moreno, put two shots on goal and created one chance. He completed one of his five crosses. Jake Mulraney, who came on for Moreno at the 58th minute, created one chance.

The fullbacks playing behind the wingers, George Bello and Franco Ibarra, weren’t credited with any chances created.