ATLANTA – Frank de Boer barely got settled after the final whistle of Atlanta United’s 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati last Saturday before getting peppered with questions about his team’s upcoming trip to Estadio Azteca.
There, Atlanta United and Club America – two of their respective leagues’ biggest clubs – will play the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal Wednesday night (10:30 pm ET | FS2, TUDN).
“I think we have enough quality on the pitch to get a good result at Azteca. It’s going to be difficult,” Atlanta's head coach said. “We have to be really clever and not do crazy things. Recovery starts tonight for Wednesday. It’s going to be a tough game for sure, but hopefully we can get a good result.”
The quarterfinal may double as a chance for revenge for Las Aguilas, after they were defeated by Atlanta in last year's Campeones Cup. The Five Stripes secured a 3-2 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, following Tigres knocking off Toronto FC in the inaugural edition.
“It’s a huge game for us. We’ve shown that we can go to a tough atmosphere and get a result and bring a decent result back to our place,” said midfielder Emerson Hyndman after he scored his second goal in as many games. “When they came here, it was a great game. We want to approach it the same way and replicate the performance and really show up.”
What players could “show up” remains to be seen, since De Boer’s injury list seemingly grows by the day. Saturday, he was forced to replace injured defender Laurence Wyke and hand 18-year old Homegrown Player signing George Campbell his MLS debut. Wyke was in the same exact situation just a week prior, forced into making his own debut shortly after signing a contract that promoted the Englishman from the club’s USL affiliate.
Star forward Josef Martinez was recently lost for an extended time after tearing his ACL in the club's 2020 opener at Nashville SC. Defenders Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar have also been out with leg injuries.
Despite the musical chairs, those who are healthy and available are confident heading to Estadio Azteca, one of the continent's most difficult venues. That includes players with previous experience in the legendary stadium, such as defender Fernando Meza, who spent last season with Necaxa before arriving from Liga MX.
“I’m able to compare, and I know the team that America is,” Meza said. “It’s a team with a lot of depth, a big squad. We have absences, but every player who plays will be important for the team. I’m totally convinced that our team, even with the loss of Josef, which obviously is important for us – we know that at least whoever plays can do well.
"I’m convinced that we can win,” Meza added. “It’s going to be an entertaining game because they play well. The field at Estadio Azteca is well suited for that, so it will be a show, and when they come here, it will be the same.”