The official slogan of Concacaf’s Campeones Cup makes it clear: this match is unique.
The one-off game pits together the Major League Soccer (MLS) champion against the winners of the Campeon de Campeones in Liga MX (a one-off match between the winners of Mexico’s Apertura and Clausura). It was established in 2018 as a way for two of the region’s powerhouse leagues to get the rare opportunity to come together.
In the latest edition of the contest, Atlanta United came out on top against historic Mexican giants Club America after a thrilling, back-and-forth tussle to bring MLS its first trophy after Tigres won the inaugural edition in September 2018.
Newly-signed midfielder Emerson Hyndman put Atlanta in front with an assured finish in the fifth minute, but America’s response was immediate. After hitting the crossbar with a rasping shot in the ninth minute, Ecuadorian winger Renato Ibarra went one better four minutes later in a near-identical build-up move.
Roger Martinez tapped in from close range 12 minutes into the second half to give America the lead only for MLS veteran and Atlanta’s captain on the night Jeff Larentowicz to equalise with a fine, long-range strike.
Atlanta’s goal machine Josef Martinez scored the winning goal in the 65th minute from the penalty spot, showing his usual bravado in front of goal despite having a spot-kick saved in the first half.
“You want to have these kind of games almost every week,” Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer said in his post-match press conference. “I’m very proud of what we showed today because it was a difficult game. We’ve made a big step forward. It’s good for MLS, and it’s especially good for Atlanta United that we can compete against these kinds of teams.
“It’s good to see they we’re getting closer. I made five changes compared to the last game. We’ve made major steps forward not only as Atlanta, but as a club from the USA.”
Judging by the Atlanta players and fans’ reactions immediately following the final whistle, it was clear the victory meant something to them.
“This is a trophy, and America wants to win every trophy possible,” America head coach Miguel Herrera said. “This wasn’t just a meaningless game or meaningless competition. It’s an alliance between two leagues.
“MLS is a league that’s growing a lot. Players like Pity Martinez, for example, are choosing to go to MLS instead of Europe.”
So it’s MLS 1:1 Liga MX in the nascent existence of the Campeones Cup, and if Wednesday’s electrifying play is any indicator, this will be a continental tug-of-war to look forward to for years to come.