Atlanta United without Barco, Damm against Philadelphia

Already trailing Philadelphia by three goals in their Champions League series, Atlanta United’s task of overturning that deficit was made harder on Monday when manager Gabriel Heinze revealed that midfielders Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm will miss Tuesday’s game because of muscle injuries sustained in last weekend’s 2-1 loss at New England.

Barco, an attacking midfielder, leads the team with two goals. Damm, a winger who was the focal point of the team’s offense in the first leg against the Union, has one.

Still, Heinze said the team has hope.

“What we are going to do is to try to put the score closer to the result we want in the shortest time possible,” he said. “But we know how difficult is this game. But we will not stop trying.”

Only one team, Club America, has overturned a 3-0 deficit in 16 attempts in the Champions League. Atlanta United hasn’t yet to do so in two previous situations. It trailed Monterrey in 2019 and Club America 3-0 in 2020 after the first leg. Atlanta United won those second legs 1-0.

While the team will be without Barco and Damm, it still has weapons. Josef Martinez should be good to go, as will Marcelino Moreno, Jake Mulraney, George Bello, Emerson Hyndman and Brooks Lennon. It also has potential to score on set pieces with centerbacks Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes and Alan Franco.

Heinze didn’t tip his hand as to who might replace Barco in the center of the formation. Moreno played that position last season and executed the role well under then-manager Stephen Glass. Moving Hyndman higher up the formation is also a possibility. Replacing Damm could fall to either Mulraney or Erik Lopez.

Whoever it may be, the fact is scoring has been an issue this season. The team has failed to score more than one goal in five of its first six games. And one goal, obviously, won’t cut it if it hopes to advance to the semifinals for the first time.

If the team shows the same focus and drive that it showed in the first 60 minutes against Philadelphia in the first leg it may have a chance. Only a standout performance from Philadelphia’s Andre Blake kept the game from becoming a rout.

Then, Philadelphia used Atlanta United’s energy against it by scoring three goals against the run of play. One came on a set piece, and two on counterattacks. Atlanta United must find the balance between getting enough players forward to create scoring chances and not opening itself up to counterattacks.

“Longer we keep a clean sheet the number of players they throw forward will have to keep increasing,” Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin said. “We need to be efficient in a counter-attacking situation … like we were able to do in second half at Atlanta.”