Concacaf Champions League: Short-handed Atlanta United opens new era with win in Costa Rica

Atlanta United survived a red card to veteran keeper Brad Guzan to beat Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense, 1-0, in the first leg of their round-of-16 series in the Concacaf Champions League.

The game marked the debut of new head coach Gabriel Heinze, who had to bring on Los Angeles-born Argentine youth international Rocco Rios Novo in the 43rd minute when Guzan was shown a red card for taking down Marcel Hernandez in a one-on-one situation just outside of the penalty area.

Rios Novo, 18, was signed by Atlanta United 2 from Argentina's Lanus in March and added to the first-team roster on Monday with a four-day contract. He made six saves in the second half to preserve the win.

The Five Stripes went ahead on Ezequiel Barco's penalty kick in the 50th minute. The penalty was awarded when 19-year-old left back George Bello fired a low cross that was ruled to have hit Jose Salvatierra's arm.

Heinze, the 42-year-old coach who was hired from Velez Sarsfield, said he wasn't surprised with the win.

"I was very hopeful that my players would fight for this club, but not surprised," he said.

Guzan was the only starter from Atlanta United's 2018 MLS championship team to start on Tuesday. Josef Martinez entered the game in the 67th minute, making his return to the field after a knee injury suffered in February 2020, an absence of 14 months.

Besides Rios Novo, three other Argentines made their Atlanta United debuts: midfielders Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra and forward Lisandro Lopez.

April 6 in Alajuela
Alajuelense 0 Atlanta United 1. Goal: Barco (pen.) 50.
Alajuelense -- Moreira; Roman, Salvatierra (Faerron 73), Arreola, Cubero; Venegas, Ruiz, Sequeira (Montenegro 52), M.Hernandez; A.Lopez, Batista.
Atlanta United -- Guzan; Lennon, Bello, Walkes, Robinson; Ibarra (Campbell 88), Sosa; Hyndman, Mulraney (Rios Novo 45+2), Barco; Lopez (Martinez 67).
Red Card: Atlanta United -- Guzan 43.

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3 comments about "Concacaf Champions League: Short-handed Atlanta United opens new era with win in Costa Rica".
  1. Wooden Ships, April 7, 2021 at 9:41 a.m.

    Good win, especially a man down in Costa Rica, no small feat. The young Argentine Keeper stepped up big.

  2. Kevin Sims, April 7, 2021 at 11:09 a.m.

    Impressive. On the road against a team with no losses in 25 matches ... against a team with 18 matches played this season ... nowhere near match fit ... nowhere near team rhythm ... down a player for more than half ... Josef not yet fully ready (BTW Lopez quite good) ... Moreno unavailable ... GREAT RESULT!!!

  3. David Crowther, April 7, 2021 at 1:01 p.m.

    I was surprised by how timid Alajuelense played in this game.  They looked nothing like the team that has been beating everyone in the local league.  But having said that, this is just one more indication of how much MLS has improved and how far Costa Rican soccer has fallen.  I can remember a time when MLS clubs would more often than not lose big when playing away in CR.  That is clearly no longer the case.

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