DORAVILLE, Ga. — As Atlanta United prepare to host the Campeones Cup against Liga MX "Campeon de Campeones" Club America on Wednesday (8 pm ET | ESPN2, Univision, TUDN in US, TSN 1/4 in Canada), some observers wonder how the two teams will approach the second edition of this relatively new annual event.
For Tito Villalba, there’s no question at all.
“We're used to big games like this. We treat them all like finals,” Atlanta United’s Paraguayan international forward said at a community event on Monday. “We know that the best team in the US is playing against the best team in Mexico. That's how we're treating it and it's a big game for us.”
Big matches have become customary in Atlanta’s sparkling and spacious home ground of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The team settled into their new digs almost exactly two years ago, and since then the behemoth stadium has hosted the 2018 MLS All-Star Game against Juventus, the 2018 MLS Cup final and will serve as the site of the U.S. Open Cup final vs. Minnesota United later this month.
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The clash of the champions 🏆 pic.twitter.com/t1AzaPFUIF— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 13, 2019
“It's big. Obviously you get the honor of playing in that game because we won MLS Cup, which is a big thing to accomplish,” said Julian Gressel at the team’s training facility Monday morning. “It will also be nice to be the first MLS team to win that trophy. It's only two years old, but it's always good to be the first team. Especially at home, we've been pretty good and we want to continue that trend.”
While some fans may not quite know how to treat the match from an emotional perspective, it’s quite clear among players that there’s an objective not just to perform well, but to win.
Speaking after Atlanta’s 2-1 win over New York City FC on Sunday, Pity Martinez voiced his determination to lift the Campeones Cup trophy. Justin Meram said games like this prove as a litmus test for where top MLS teams stand in relation to the best teams in Mexico.
“It's important. There's a cup on the line,” said Meram on Monday. “It's the best team from Mexico last year vs. the best team from MLS last year, so it's two big clubs competing for a trophy. Any time there's something on the line, you want to win and hopefully we can.
“I think it'd be a decent statement to show Liga MX especially that MLS teams can hang,” he added. “[MLS] has been close in [Concacaf] Champions League — a couple of teams have been close, so it'd be a good statement and hopefully in the future MLS teams can win the Champions League.”