MLS SOCCER

Atlanta United Comes Up Short, No CONCACAF Champions League

ATLANTA — A goal by Josef Martinez helped Atlanta United defeat Mexico’s Monterrey Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Venezuelan native scored the lone goal of the game after receiving an assist from teammate Darlington Nagbe at the 77th minute.

Despite the victory by the Five Stripes, Atlanta came up short of tying the series and lost 3-1 in the aggregate score, which saw the team’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign come to an end.

“It was almost an impossible task tonight, and we went out there and gave it all we had,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “They are a very good team, and we talked about forgetting about the scoreline at the beginning of the game, just have a performance that is worthy of the star of the jersey of the fans of the stadium. Thought we went out tonight and did that.”

Monterrey will face either Panama’s CA Independiente or Sporting KC from Major League Soccer in the semifinals. Atlanta started the game looking for an early goal in hopes of tying a three-goal deficit and Martinez almost succeeded as he shot the ball inside the box after receiving a pass by Ezequiel Barco at the eighth minute. Unfortunately, Monterrey’s goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero got just a finger on the shot by Martinez and kept the ball away from the back of its net.

The rest of the game became equally balanced possession-wise, and neither team could capitalize off their offensive opportunities. About the 57th minute, Atlanta’s Julian Gressel was able to place the ball into the 18-yard box off a cross, but unfortunately, the ball went out of bounds untouched, as no one was there to attempt a shot at Monterrey’s goal. At the 73rd minute, it looked as Monterrey would score the first goal of the game, but to Atlanta’s fortune, the ball hit the crossbar twice in back-to-back shots.

Four minutes later, Martinez scored for Atlanta, which gave the team and fans around the stadium hope that the comeback could become a reality. Not long after, at the 83rd minute, Darlington Nagbe scored what would have been United’s second goal of the game, but the referee called a foul on Martinez, which occurred before the goal, resulting in the goal being waved off.

“I just spoke to the guys and gave them a really big compliment with the energy they put tonight in this game,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “This is the energy you want to see, what the fans expect to see.” With the elimination of the CONCACAF Champions League, the Five Stripes will now focus its attention to the Philadelphia Union, who will come into town Sunday afternoon. The game is set to kick-off at 7 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz.

“We are disappointed not to advance,” Parkhurst said. “We had high hopes going into this tournament. The performance down in Monterrey hurt us. You lose 3-0 away, and it’s such a tall task to try to overdo that against one of the best teams on the continent so now that it’s over the full focus is on MLS, righting that ship and making sure we get good performances.”

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