ATLANTA — Atlanta United kicked off their season last night, in a way, playing their first true competitive match since their MLS season ended in December with a loss in the Eastern Conference Final.
And they did it in Honduras.
Atlanta traveled to play FC Motagua for the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 battle. They came away with a 1-1 draw, thanks to a Josef Martinez goal that brought things even just two minutes after Motagua opened the scoring.
Martinez linked up with Pity Martinez for the goal, taking his pass clear at the top of the box and coolly angling his shot at the far post past a diving Motagua keeper.
Because they scored on the road in Honduras, Atlanta will have a slight edge when the teams meet again next Tuesday.
The Champions League, like most international competitions that employ a two-leg knockout system, places a tiebreaker on away goals. Meaning if the next game ends 0-0, Atlanta wins 1-0 on away goals. (Conversely, if the next game ends 2-2, they would lose 2-1 on away goals.)
The CONCACAF Champions League is a regional competition for the best teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, an equivalent to Europe's famed Champions League.
"Lots of work still to do but a battling, gritty performance on the road from the lads!" Atlanta United President Darren Eales tweeted after the match. "Looking forward to being back in front of our amazing 17s next week!"
The match also provided occasion for the debut of two new United players brought in this offseason - young wingback Brooks Lennon, who came on in the 65th minute, and forward Adam Jahn, who came on at the 80th minute for Pity.
When United play the second half of the last-16 affair next week, it'll mark a roundabout kind of home opener here in Atlanta.
The MLS season doesn't start for the team until Feb. 29, and their first MLS home game will be March 7.
While United will of course target the MLS Cup championship every year, the Champions League would represent a special prize: No MLS team has won it since 2001, with MExican teams winning the last 14 regional titles.