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Timing is everything as Atlanta United and Club America set for intriguing Campeones Cup

20:25 SAST 2019/08/14
Giovani dos Santos América 050819
With both teams in good form coming into Wednesday's match, things worked out for a much better contest than the inaugural edition

The Campeones Cup will be disputed for just the second time in history Wednesday, with MLS Cup winners Atlanta United hosting the Liga MX Campeon de Campeones, Club America.

Remember the first game? If you're not a Tigres fan, the answer is probably no. The game came at a terrible time for both teams involved, with Toronto FC trying to bail out a sinking ship of a season in September and Tigres more focused on a weekend rivalry match than the prospect of lifting an international trophy that hardly would stop rival fans from saying the club never has won anything at the international level.

This time around, the timing is much better. Part of that is simply the date. With the game falling in August, Atlanta United wouldn't need to be panicking yet even if it were to find itself outside the playoff positions. Instead, Frank de Boer's team is cruising along, the struggles of the early portion of the season mostly forgotten. The Five Stripes have won four of their last five league matches and are only three points off the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Despite a number of summer departures, America are similarly breezing along in league play as one of three remaining undefeated teams through the first four weeks of league play.

The relative lack of worry on the league level - something organizers have increased the likelihood of by moving the contest up a month - means the teams are far more likely to focus their efforts on the game than they would otherwise. Managers feel comfortable playing a strong side, and fans are more likely to see a spectacle worthy of a meeting between the two strongest leagues in Concacaf.

Herrera plans to use nearly a full-strength team, though the attack of Henry Martin and Roger Martinez might not be his first choices up top. Giovani dos Santos is available off the bench, and the rest of the squad is strong. The back line is the best America can boast as Emanuel Aguilera continues to struggle with injuries. Guido Rodriguez and Sebastian Cordova is the central midfield pairing he's used after losing Edson Alvarez to Ajax and Mateus Uribe to Porto in the summer.

"The fans aren't quite as stuck into this tournament since it's just starting, but for us it's really important. America is a team were you go out and have to look to win, and the trophies you can win, you want to lift them," Herrera said at a news conference. "So, it's going to be a very important game. We've come here with the best we have and are taking it with the necessary seriousness."

De Boer has been cagier about his plans, as any manager facing the carefree Herrera generally is by default. Still, the Dutchman should use a strong XI as well as he looks to lift MLS's record in the Campeones Cup to 50 percent. 

The allure of a better game already has led to more interest locally. The crowd should be around three times bigger than the announced crowd at the first edition of the game. Some of that is the Atlanta effect and some of it is it being tough enough to convince even 14,823 people to go sit outside in Toronto. But plenty is down to the fact that this will be a better game, and one in which the managers are going to be willing to go for the trophy.

It's not that the Campeones Cup doesn't create a bit of a fixture logjam. Herrera needs to be careful, with a league game this weekend against Monarcas and next week's return to the U.S. for a Leagues Cup contest against Tigres. Atlanta hits the road for an MLS Cup rematch and a rivalry game next with a cup final shortly after. Even so, managed correctly this game could build rhythm for players ahead of those contests. Plus, with neither team fighting for their playoff lives, fans are going to be much more forgiving should a weakened team slip up this weekend - especially if it comes with the Campeones Cup trophy.

For MLS teams, beating Liga MX sides still is a resume line. It's something too few teams have been able to do. For Mexican clubs, any trophy is a good thing whether it's the Liga MX title or something more, well, manufactured like the Campeon de Campeones or the Campeones Cup. It's still an opportunity to lift a trophy, to celebrate an accomplishment and to show fans things are going in the right direction. 

This time the schedule has aligned and the teams taking part are in a moment of the season where it's possible to prioritize this one game - and to enjoy the trophy that will go to the winner. We're all better for it.