To that end, de Boer, who consistently expressed confidence during the past week that his team would get its revenge, made two changes from last week’s starting 11. Brek Shea replaced the injured George Bello as left wingback. Darlington Nagbe replaced Jeff Larentowicz in the midfield. Though he hasn’t scored for Atlanta United, Nagbe is more offensive-minded than Larentowicz. The remaining starters were goalkeeper Brad Guzan, centerbacks Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson, Gressel at right wingback, defensive midfielder Eric Remedi, midfielders Barco and Pity Martinez, and striker Josef Martinez.
De Boer said a combination of higher pressure from Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez, playing on a better quality field and more focus were the biggest differences from last week, when his team looked every bit a team playing its first game of the season for a new manager.
First, a shot from Gressel was saved after nice hold-up play from Josef Martinez in the penalty box.
A few seconds later, after Nagbe kept possession, a cross from Shea wasn’t cleared by a Herediano defender. The ball fell to Josef Martinez, whose one-timed shot gave Atlanta United a 1-0 lead 47 seconds into the game and cut Herediano’s aggregate lead to 3-2. It was the fastest goal in team history.
Atlanta United took a 2-0 lead in the 10th minute on a goal from Gressel on an assist from Barco. The goal, a shot into the opposite corner from the right, tied the aggregate score at 3-3,which would put Atlanta United through because of its away goal. It was Gressel’s second goal in the Champions League this season.
“You could see that it (the grass) did,” Gressel said. “You could move side to side. You could create more space for yourself because the ball gets to you quicker.”
Herediano manager Hernan Medford said the opening minutes set a tone from which his team didn’t recover.
As the teams returned to midfield, Josef Martinez waved his arms up and down to urge the sold-out crowd of 8,589 to keep cheering.
There was controversy in the minutes before halftime when Barco, facing a one-on-one with Herediano’s goalkeeper, was pulled down from behind in the denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. What the rules say should have resulted in a red card to the Herediano player was instead ruled to not even be a foul by Jamaican referee Oshane Nation.
Atlanta United began to apply more and more pressure in the second half as Herediano pushed up the field in an attempt to score.
First, Gressel just missed scoring his second when a right-footed shot skipped just past the opposite post.
Josef Martinez tried to turn in the box second later but was unsuccessful.
Pity Martinez followed in the 58th minute with a left-footed shot that just went wide of the right post.
The pressure paid off in the 63rd minute when Josef Martinez scored his second goal to give Atlanta United a 3-0 lead in the game, and 4-3 aggregate lead. Shea was put through down the left by Remedi, who split two lines with a pass. Shea hit a simple square pass to Martinez.
Pirez scored Atlanta United’s fourth with a header on a cross from Barco in the 84th minute.
“I’m really happy with how we played,” Barco said.