The Campeones Cup will join the MLS Cup won last season by the Five Stripes. Atlanta United still has two more chances to win hardware this season. It will host the U.S. Open Cup on Aug. 27. It is also competing to defend its league title. It is second in the East and will play at Portland on Sunday.
The Campeones Cup is in its second year and features last season’s MLS champ against the champions of LIGA MX. Tigres defeated Toronto last year making Atlanta United the first MLS team to defeat a club from Mexico in the event.
Though Club America’s roster is filled with higher-profile, more expensive players, and plays in a better league, Atlanta United looked the better team most of the night. To be fair, Atlanta United is in the middle of its season while Club America is only four games into its campaign.
Manager Frank de Boer said he was going to field a strong lineup and he did by selecting many of the regulars. In a change from Brad Guzan, Alec Kann started in goal with Franco Escobar, Flo Pogba and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez as the centerbacks. Veteran Jeff Larentowicz replaced Eric Remedi as defensive midfielder. He was paired with Darlington Nagbe. Julian Gressel and Dion Pereira were the wingbacks with Emerson Hyndman and Pity Martinez as the attacking midfielders and Josef Martinez the striker.
After a diving save by Kann kept the game scoreless in the third minute, Atlanta United scored on its first shot on goal when Pereira put Hyndman through on goal. Hyndman touched the ball low and into the right corner for a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute. The play developed with Nagbe passing to Pereira, who one-touched the ball into space between two Club America defenders for Hyndman to run onto.
Club America cranked up the intensity with Renata Ibarra flying in from the right to smash a shot off the crossbar when he had most of the goal open in the ninth minute.
Club America scored its equalizer in the 14th minute on a goal by Ibarra, who was set up by Roger Martinez. Martinez easily beat Escobar down the left and to the end line before hitting a soft pass through the penalty box. Instead of hammering the shot as he did before, Ibarra placed his shot into the goal to tie the game 1.
Atlanta United wasted a chance to take a 2-1 lead when Josef Martinez’s penalty kick in the 40th minute was saved by Club America goalkeeper Oscar Jimenez, who dove low to his right. In addition to at least one Club America player running into the box before Martinez hit his penalty, it also appeared that Jimenez came off his line early. Both are infractions and should have resulted in a re-kick. However, referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador ruled a corner kick. The penalty was won by Pity Martinez, who was tackled by Bruno Valdez in the box.
Atlanta United came within inches of getting its second goal in the 51st minute when Club America’s Jorge Sanchez almost scored an own goal from 12 yards when his feet got tangled up and he hit the ball as Jimenez was coming out of the goal. But the ball rolled just outside of the left post.
Club America bounced back in the 57th minute with a goal by Roger Martinez, who got away from Gressel to tap-in a corner kick. Pogba had a chance to clear the corner, but ducked his head and missed the ball.
Atlanta United stuck two minutes later and the scorer was the least likely player on the field: Larentowicz, who hammered a shot from 25 yards into the upper left corner to tie the game at 2. It was hit so hard that Jimenez didn’t even move. It was Larentowicz’s third goal with Atlanta United.
Atlanta United took its second lead in the 65th minute when Josef Martinez converted a penalty won by Pogba. Martinez made no mistake with this penalty, slamming it into the upper left corner with such pace that Jimenez, who guessed correctly, couldn’t reach it.
Atlanta United kept applying pressure, but Club America continued to find ways to turn the Five Stripes back. The first was when an excellent free kick by Pity Martinez was headed off the line by Bruno Valdez near the 70th minute.
Two minutes later, Valdez received his second yellow for a late tackle of Josef Martinez and was ejected, giving Atlanta United a man advantage for the game’s final 18 minutes.