Atlanta United embark on their second CONCACAF Champions League venture next year. In doing so, they are attempting to prove they are a member of the region’s elite.
Atlanta United will begin their second attempt at North American glory when they face off against Honduran side Motagua FC in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Five Stripes earned their way into the 2020 tournament by way of winning the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by defeating Minnesota United 2-1 in Atlanta.
Motagua, meanwhile, are making their fifth appearance in the CCL by way of finishing runners-up in the 2019 CONCACAF league. They are yet to advance past the Round of 16 in all previous attempts.
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Motagua are the second-most successful club in Honduras, having won the Honduran Liga Nacional 17 times. The only team to have more titles is fellow CCL opponent, Olimpia. Their last appearance in the CCL was 2018 when they fell to Mexican side Tijuana 2-1 over two legs.
Domestically, Motagua finished the Apertura — the first half of the Honduran season — in third place in the Honduran Liga Nacional with 31 points, nine points behind second-place Marathón and 13 behind Olimpia. Motagua sits in second place in the second half of the season known, the Clausura.
While no team in the CCL should be overlooked (just ask Toronto FC what happens when you look past an apparently lesser side), Atlanta will be hoping to make a deep run in the competition, delivering on their intentions to establish themselves as one of the premier teams in the region.
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Last season, the Five Stripes squeezed out of the opening round against Costa Rican side Herediano despite it being manager Frank de Boer’s first matches with the side — they fell in leg one 3-1 in Costa Rica but came back to win 4-0 in the home leg, which was played at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia due to scheduling conflicts at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta — but later fell victim to the eventual champions, Monterrey, in the quarter-finals, despite taking a 1-0 win at home.
Should they see past Motagua, this year, Atlanta will face the winner of Mexico’s Club América and Club Comunicaciones of Guatemala. United defeated the Mexican giants 3-2 in the Campeones Cup earlier this season and will be hoping to prove their superiority in a rematch.
Beyond that, they will likely face Club Leon, who look to be the class of the competition and face Los Angeles FC in the opening round, in the semi-finals. It is an extremely tough run. Atlanta United were not helped by the draw. But if you want to prove you are the best, you must also beat the best.
Atlanta United has cemented themselves as a superclub in Major League Soccer. But they are yet to do so in the CONCACAF region more generally. This season brings another chance for a side more familiar with their manager and each other to do what has never been done: win the CONCACAF Champions League.