ATLANTA - Atlanta United’s first pursuit of a trophy this season is over.
The Five Stripes, the defending MLS champions, were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarterfinal round by Monterrey on Wednesday with a 1-0 win in the game, but 3-1 aggregate loss in the two-game series. Josef Martinez scored Atlanta United’s goal in front of an announced attendance of 40,048 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United had hopes of becoming the first MLS team to win this version of the Champions League, but a combination of a bad draw that matched them up against Monterrey, arguably the best team in the Western Hemisphere, and not enough time to learn manager Frank de Boer’s new formation and tactics as well as each other, combined to prematurely end the pursuit.
Atlanta United can now turn its attention to trying to make up points lost in its first two games in MLS when it hosts Philadelphia on Sunday. Atlanta United is 0-1-1 in the league this season.
De Boer again on Wednesday went with the core group of starters, most of whom started each of the previous five games. The only change was Jeff Larentowicz at centerback in place of the suspended Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Mike Ambrose, who has started two games at right wingback, moved to his natural left side at wingback in place of Brek Shea.
De Boer said on Tuesday that there would be tweaks made to the tactics to try to create more goal-scoring opportunities. Atlanta United had scored more than one goal in just one of its previous five games and been shut out twice.
The aggressiveness was there with Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez, Josef Martinez and the wingbacks taking turns making runs into spaces behind Monterrey’s defense.
Atlanta United came close to taking a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute when Barco threaded a pass through six defenders for Josef Martinez to run onto. As he reached the ball in the penalty box and swiped at it with his right foot, Monterrey goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero came out, dove to his right, reached out his right hand, and knocked away the weak shot.
Other than two free kicks in dangerous places, Atlanta United didn’t come close to scoring again until Julian Gressel put a pass across the face of Monterrey’s goal near the 57th minute. No one was there to tap it in.
Despite the emphasis on creating chances, Atlanta United still put just two shots on goal through 72 minutes despite Barco, Josef Martinez and Pity Martinez, attackers Atlanta United paid more than $30 million in transfer fees to sign, leading the front line.
The Rayados hit the crossbar twice in a span of seconds near the 73rd minute but couldn’t score.
Atlanta United attacked but Darlington Nagbe’s shot, which appeared destined for the lower left corner, was tipped out in the 75th minute.
Atlanta United finally broke through in the 77th minute when Josef Martinez and Nagbe exchanged passes. The sequence ended with Martinez slamming a shot into the upper right corner from just a few yards out.
Atlanta United appeared to score in the 83rd minute when Nagbe put a shot into the corner, but it was waived off because of a foul committed by Josef Martinez before the shot.
The 40,048 was the smallest announced attendance for an Atlanta United game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The previous low was 41,012 for a U.S. Open Cup game against Chicago on June 20, 2018. While small for Atlanta United, it did set a record for the largest crowd ever to watch a U.S. Open Cup game.