MARIETTA, Ga. — As if MLS Cup week wasn’t enough excitement for Atlanta United, the club on Monday was officially drawn into the 2019 Concacaf Champions League, where they will play Costa Rican side Herediano in the first round in February.
MLS clubs have struggled in the competition historically, having yet to win since the competition was changed the Champions League in 2008. Toronto FC made it to the final last season, the third MLS club in league history to do so, but could not pass the final hurdle.
Atlanta will hope to buck the trend, just as it has in MLS with regard to attendance figures, infrastructure and transfer spending. Greg Garza — one of Atlanta's players who has experienced the competition from the Mexican side of the table with Club Tijuana — said winning the competition would vault Atlanta into a league of its own.
“[If you win], you're traveling to Japan or Dubai or wherever they're having the Club World Cup,” Garza told reporters Tuesday. “That's really putting not only the club, but the league on the map, to play in a tournament like that where every year it's a Mexican side. If we could turn the tables a little bit, that'd be great.”
Atlanta United president Darren Eales has maintained that participating and succeeding in the regional competition is just part of the club’s long-term ambitions.
“When we launched this club two years ago, we set high expectations to win championships, compete on a global stage and to extend our brand into international markets,” Eales said in a statement in October after Atlanta clinched a berth in the competition. “We’re pleased with the progress that has been made and we’re looking forward to competing in this prestigious international tournament next spring.”
Garza said the pace Atlanta United is accomplishing its goals offers hope that the club can indeed go on to perform well and set more goals on another stage.
“Getting into an international tournament is something you strive for each and every day as a club, and for us to do that in our second year, we should be very proud of ourselves,” Garza said. “Hopefully we can make the most of it next year and hopefully put the United States and MLS on the map.”