Atlanta United defender Greg Garza (4) works with the ball during their practice at Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground in Marietta on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Champions League can be a springboard for Atlanta United

Atlanta United fullback Greg Garza said playing in an international tournament such as the CONCACAF Champions League is something that players strive for.

Atlanta United earned a spot in the Champions League by finishing with the most points from the 2017 and ’18 MLS seasons. The club’s first-round opponent, Herediano of Costa Rica, was drawn last night during a televised event in Miami. The games will be in February. Dates haven’t been announced. It will be Atlanta United’s first appearance.

“I think it’s a great tournament,” Garza said. 

Garza previously played in the Champions League, advancing to the semifinals with Tijuana of LIGA MX in 2013-14.

Three of the four semifinalists that year were from Mexico, which has dominated the competition. Club teams from Mexico have won the championship in its various forms 34 times since 1962, including the past 10. MLS teams have played for the title three times in the past 10 years.

Garza said it would boost MLS for one of its clubs to win the tournament because the winner gets to play in the Club World Cup, a tournament featuring the club champion from each FIFA region. Competing in that tournament can provide exposure for the club and league, according to Garza. An MLS team has yet to play in the tournament, which was first held in 2000.

“If we can turn the tables a bit that’ll be great,” he said.

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