CONCACAF Champions League
The way our CONCACAF Champions League season turned out was definitely not as we would have liked. It was a real priority for us as a team to make it as far as possible, but unfortunately we lost to a good Monterrey team in the quarterfinals. Playing in this competition was a great experience and something I will be able to draw from as my career continues. Visiting different countries was fun, and I hope I will be able to advance further at some point and maybe even lift the trophy. Let’s start at the very beginning, though.
Once we found out we were playing Herediano in our first matchup, I did not really think about it for long. At that time, we were preparing for MLS Cup and I did not even want to think one second about the following season. Everything was focused on not only the biggest game in my career, but the biggest game for the club and Atlanta Sports in a while. There was definitely no time to think about what happens in a few months, especially since the draw gave us an opponent that I had never heard of in a country that I associate with vacation more than anything else. After our MLS Cup win, I also never really got around to actually really do some research and check out our first real opponent of the 2019 season. By the time we had been in camp for a week or so I had a better idea of what would come our way with Herediano. Preseason came and went and it was time for the first real match of our 2019 campaign. The travel to Costa Rica was easy. We took a Delta charter and stayed in a nice hotel for the few days we were there. The weather was great (unlike the weeks before during preseason) and we all felt pretty good about getting the season started. Once I saw the stadium I knew that it would be a really tough place to play. The turf played really slow and the ball bounced more than it rolled, therefore it was going to be hard to move the ball quick and open up space for us to create some quality chances. I remember hoping for rain to make the conditions a bit easier and shift it more in our favor, but it did not rain and the game definitely did not go the way we wanted it to. We lost 3-1, but thankfully we scored an away goal. That goal was about the only positive to take back to Atlanta. Our performance simply was not good enough and we had to improve a lot if we wanted to turn this around.
The return leg at Kennesaw State University happened just the way we wanted to. Two early goals and full control of the game led to a 4-0 victory and secured our spot in the next round. The feeling was good after that game, we played well and deserved to move on to the quarterfinals. We knew that the next round matchup in Monterrey was going to be difficult. They have not lost a game all year, are one of the top teams in Mexico, and are essentially in mid season form. But we also knew that if we were at our best, we could definitely beat them and advance. It all happened quickly, we found out right after the second leg against Herediano that we would go straight from D.C. to Mexico for the midweek game. Unfortunately, I was not be able to play in that beautiful stadium because of my ankle injury. We trained in Washington on Monday before our departure to Monterrey and I rolled my ankle. I was in a lot of pain and it was pretty swollen, but I was not going to give up on the game, yet. On Tuesday, I got treatment basically all day and we really made some progress in terms of managing the swelling. I had also made progress towards being able to walk normal again, but unless a miracle happened over night I would not be able to play.
The miracle did not happen and unfortunately, I had to miss my first game in an Atlanta United uniform due to injury. This was the first time I was not able to play because of an injury in years. I cannot even remember the last time I had to miss a game. It was a different feeling for me not being able to help the team. I was a lot more nervous watching than I would have been playing. I thought we played a very disciplined game until the last ten minutes, where we conceded two goals and took a 3-0 deficit back to Atlanta. After a poor performance during the weekend in MLS, we were back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to try and make the impossible possible. During warm ups, there was a strange feeling in the air and I was hoping that that would turn out in our favor. We played pretty well, but unfortunately were not able to score a goal in the first half to put some more pressure on Monterrey. We deservedly won the game 1-0, however, ultimately lost on aggregate 3-1 and got knocked out against a good Monterrey side.
Ultimately, we did not deserve to advance, but showed in the second leg that we can compete with the best teams in Mexico. This performance is what leaves me hopeful for not only the rest of the MLS season, but also the Campeones Cup later this year. Overall, my first CCL experience was one I will be able to learn from and hope that I can use later in my career. I visited a couple countries I have never been to before and really wish I could have played in that beautiful stadium in Monterrey. Maybe that will happen another time. Hopefully we will be able to play in that competition again soon and make a real run at that trophy.