Atlanta United Makes International Debut At CONCACAF
Atlanta United plays its first game in an international tournament Thursday.
The CONCACAF Champions League pits top ranked teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean against one another.
The Five Stripes face off in Costa Rica against home team, C.S. Herediano.
GPB Sports' John Nelson joined Rickey Bevington to talk about the game.
Rickey Bevington: This game is a big deal. What is CONCACAF and how did Atlanta United qualify?
Jon Nelson: ONCACAF is basically the governing body of all of the regions that you mentioned, North America, Central America and the Caribbean with a couple of other territories in South America included in it.
It will run tournaments and organized competitions for the national teams and the clubs in this region.
This 16-team tournament determines who is the best in the hemisphere and gets a bid to the Club World Cup.
If Atlanta United were to advance and win, it would be the first chance for any MLS team to be competing in the Club World Cup. So it is a big deal.
Bevington: Atlanta United is obviously very good domestically. We are the MLS Cup champions right now. Our players are league MVPs. So how good do you have to be, as an MLS team, to get into this competition?
Nelson: For Atlanta United only being in its third year of existence to be on a stage this big, I think it speaks a lot to what Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra and Arthur Blank have been building from the absolute beginning.
To be in competitions like this and show that MLS can be a league and have franchises that can stand toe to toe with the likes of Tigres UNAL from Liga MX and Santos Laguna and Monterrey which are in the bracket.
So you've got a lot of stiff competition, and right now, Atlanta is one of the three favorites to win this thing out of the block.
Bevington: Obviously, Atlanta United is used to playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and other American and Canadian fields. How are the conditions in Costa Rica going to impact their play?
Nelson: I think that you have look at this as another business trip because honestly it's a three and a half hour plane flight. So you treat this the same way as an MLS match going to Boston or Denver or something like that.
Bevington: Something else Atlanta United players are used to is supporters showing up to away games. How many fans are down in Costa Rica for the game?
Nelson: In the airport here in San Jose, I saw folks wearing Atlanta United gear. In keeping touch with supporters groups, you're looking at about 120 supporters that are going to make it.
It's going to be interesting for me to see the fan response and just how rabid it's going to be for another history making moment when it comes to Atlanta United.
Bevington: There's another game next week, how does this tournament work? They'll be back here in Kennesaw, aren't they?
Nelson: Yes. They'll be playing at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in a week's time.
You get your business done on Thursday night late, come out with a draw at bare minimum or come out with a win which is an anticipated result by a lot of folks. Then the road is a lot easier for you to advance to the round of eight after the second leg next Thursday.
Bevington: To remind our American listeners, this is unique to soccer, it's whoever scores the most goals over two games.
You can stream the game at YahooSports on their website and on their app.
Next week, Atlanta United plays a second match against the Costa Rican team at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University on the 28th.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.