The Costa Rican Primera Division leaders will be without seven of their starters, per reporting from The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas, leaving them shorthanded while looking to overcome a 1-0 first-leg aggregate hole.
After several key players traveled with Costa Rica’s national team for March friendlies against Mexico and Bosnia and Herzegovina, U.S. travel protocols around the COVID-19 pandemic have rendered them unavailable. The absences include midfielder Bryan Ruiz, midfielder Johan Venegas, goalkeeper Leonel Moreira and outside back Ian Smith.
Heinze was succinct about the topic before his second competitive game in charge of the Five Stripes, one that’ll be played at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on the campus of Kennesaw State University.
“Every game is different and has its own difficulties,” Heinze said through a translator. “What we need to do is prepare [for] them and know how to face them."
One guarantee, Heinze said, is newly-signed center back Alan Franco won’t be available for selection. He’s arrived in Atlanta from Argentine side Independiente on a Designated Player deal, giving them a likely partner for US men’s national team defender Miles Robinson during the 2021 MLS season.
They'll also be without starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan after his first-half red card in Leg 1, but Atlanta United 2 goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo has signed another short-term agreement, it was announced Tuesday afternoon.
The 18-year-old made six saves against Alajuelense in Leg 1, conjuring some CCL magic off the bench to preserve the shutout. This is Rios Novo’s second short-term agreement (four maximum per player per season), with each prompting a four-day contract. If Rios Novo doesn't start, reserve goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard could feature.
As those pieces work themselves out, midfielder Emerson Hyndman is encouraged by Atlanta’s early direction under Heinze. Should they advance, they’d face the winner of the Philadelphia Union vs. Saprissa series in the quarterfinals.
“We've had preseason games, but there's nothing like a real match,” Hyndman said, reflecting on Leg 1. “The intensity was obviously higher, so I think having that game behind us, working with each other on the field, always helps. Especially those circumstances we found ourselves in, being a man down, a little bit of adversity, fought our way through it, got a good result. I think that always helps with morale, whatever time of year it is. For it to happen in the very first game I think is a huge boost and I think we can be really optimistic.”
After facing Alajuelense, the Five Stripes will open their 2021 MLS season on April 17 at rivals Orlando City SC. But Heinze isn’t looking toward Saturday just yet, instead staying laser-focused on completing the job before them.
“We don't have an analysis about the game this weekend,” Heinze said. “Everything that we have been preparing is thinking about the game tomorrow.”