Atlanta United defeated Mexican champions Club América 3-2 earlier this week to win the second installment of the Campeones Cup. The Campeones Cup is an annual competition that pits the winners of MLS and Liga MX against each other in a battle for continental superiority. With Atlanta’s victory, they are the first MLS team in history to defeat a Mexican side in a major final.
Emerson Hyndman opened the scoring for the hosts in the 5th minute but Atlanta’s lead was short-lived as Renato Ibarra fired América back on level terms 8 minutes later. Josef Martínez later had the chance to put Atlanta back in front but saw his penalty saved on the stroke of half time. Club América did not make the same mistake as their opponents and Roger Martínez took advantage of a loose ball in the box to put his side in front in the 57th minute. This time it was Atlanta who quickly fired back when Jeff Larentowicz scored a screamer from outside the box just 2 minutes later. Atlanta’s victory was then sealed in the 65th minute when Martínez made amends for his earlier miss and slotted the ball past Oscar Jiménez from 12 yards out.
Goal scorer Emerson Hyndman spoke after the match about the importance of Atlanta’s victory in terms of the heated MLS-Liga MX rivalry.
“They’re obviously a great team. We knew it was going to be tough match. But I think the way we competed tonight showed we can compete with teams in Mexico. It was a great team performance. It showed how far we’ve come”.
For years, Liga MX and those in the Mexican Football Federation have viewed MLS and inferior to their own league and with Atlanta United’s victory, the balance of power might just be started to swing north for the first time.
Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer echoed Hyndman’s sentiments and saw this victory as a key step in the development of soccer in America and its status across the continent.
“These are the two champions against each other. It’s good to see we’re getting closer. If you see how we did today, then you can say we made major steps forward, not only ‘we’ as Atlanta, but also as a club from the United States”.
Although both sides came out with the utmost intensity and desire to win, it just seemed like this trophy meant a little more to Atlanta. Club América are one of the biggest clubs in South America and have been enjoying a golden spell with former Mexico manager Miguel Herrera at the helm. While Herrera certainly would’ve loved to win, he didn’t need to win as badly as Frank de Boer who has been heavily scrutinized from fans and his players alike since accepting the unruly task of replacing Tata Martino.
Following Martino, the man who led Atlanta United to an MLS Cup triumph in their second season as a franchise, was always going to be an uphill battle but after a rocky start to the season and facing criticism from his players for deviating from Martino’s successful attacking football, de Boer seems to have finally steadied the ship. The Dutchman will be hoping to ride this momentum through the end of the regular season and into MLS Cup but first he must deal with the next task ahead of him, a tough away match against the Portland Timbers.