It wasn’t the convincing win that some perhaps desired, but Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer was nonetheless satisfied after his team’s 1-1 draw at Honduran club Motagua on Tuesday evening in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series.
Especially given the circumstances – the Five Stripes didn’t have a full bench and signed SuperDraft pick Phillip Goodrum to short-term agreement for the match at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano – the end result provided a building block for CCL aspirations.
“To really play our style of play was quite difficult, and I think we did very well in getting the fighting spirit,” De Boer told reporters after the game. “In the end, I think a one-all draw was deserved by both teams. Both teams could have scored maybe one or two more, so I’m very happy with the result.”
Atlanta responded almost immediately after going down in the 34th minute on a Roberto Moreira goal, as Josef Martinez finished off a give-and-go sequence with Pity Martinez in the 35th minute. But the Venezuelan forward almost wasn’t ready for the match, with De Boer revealing that he was dealing with a fever over the weekend.
Otherwise, offseason acquisition Brooks Lennon was relegated to the substitutes' bench with a twisted ankle and De Boer deployed a back four that only started training together last Sunday. Out of necessity, midfielder Mo Adams was dropped to right back and wide defender Anton Walkes moved centrally. The backline was already weakened, with center back Miles Robinson out (quadriceps strain) and left backs Edgar Castillo (ribs) and George Bello (concussion) dealing with issues of their own.
“We told the guys that if it’s not possible to build up from behind, then we have to just also play fighting football and get the result either way,” De Boer. “It doesn’t matter how the result comes together, that’s the most important thing.”
Now, Atlanta quickly turns their focus to the second leg at home at Fifth Third Bank Stadium next Tuesday (8 pm ET | FS1, TUDN in US; TSN.ca/TSN App in Canada). De Boer is optimistic that more players will be available, with the Dutchman noting that new midfielders Jake Mulraney and Matheus Rossetto should be available after visa hurdles.
The final XI may still not be a full-strength one from Atlanta, but they’re also in an advantageous spot after bagging an away goal. Further, De Boer’s group is primed to reach the CCL quarterfinals for the second straight year should they take care of business at home.
“We can play more our own style of play, especially on a good surface,” De Boer said. “We can play in between lines, because normally there is a lot of space that we can use against Motagua. We said already it’s not possible on this pitch, that’s why we choose to play more long balls and more the fighting spirit. For us, it was the most important thing."