The Atlanta United Football Club will take on the Charleston Battery on Wednesday night in Kennesaw for their first U.S. Open Cup match. For anyone unfamiliar, the USOC is the longest running tournament for team sports in the U.S. It has been held every year since 1914 and is open to every pro and amateur league team in the country. The winner not only gets the Sir Thomas Dewar Cup, as in Thomas Dewar of Dewar’s Whiskey, they also get a birth in the CONCACAF Champions League and a chance to win a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup. Though 62 teams have won the tournament, since the MLS entered in 1996 the Rochester Rhinos in 1999 were the only non-first division team to win the cup in that time.
Charleston is a sort of familiar foe for Atlanta United. On top of being the team’s USL affiliate, the Five Stripes faced the Battery in preseason and several players on the roster represented the South Carolina side last season. For their part, Charleston won their past two Open Cup games traveling to Atlanta and beating the Silverbacks 2-1 and going to Jacksonville and taking care of the Armada 1-0. Aside from the USOC, Charleston sits first in the Eastern Conference of the USL with an 8-2-3 record, so they know how to win games.
What to watch for...
Taking things seriously
This will really show how serious Atlanta United is about the U.S. Open Cup. Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez may see limited minutes due to coming back from international duty and injury respectively. The rest of the squad will also give Tata reason to sit first team starters. For one, Jeff Larentowicz, Tyrone Mears, and Michael Parkhurst are a combined 100 years old, that’s 700 in dog years, that’s pretty old. Get ready to see some younger players and second team guys who haven’t played much so far this year.
In addition, Greg Garza was rested as a precaution due to his hip earlier this year and has played a lot of soccer so far and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez looked like he could use a break on Saturday. Indeed an entirely new backline may debut on Wednesday. Not to say that Atlanta will be packing it in, but this match will go to show where the depth and versatility on the team stands. A good performance from lesser known players in a game like this could also make the case for Tata Martino to what has been his first team roster going forward.
Back to the top of the mountain
Atlanta United is coming off of a match in Vancouver where they couldn’t turn possession into chances and a match in Chicago where poor individual performances let a disjointed Chicago team off the hook. The match Charleston played against the Silverbacks featured the Battery largely content to sit back and absorb pressure but the home team had success when they broke with speed looking for quick scoring chances. Two weeks ago, they got an early lead against the Jacksonville Armada and held on for a 1-0 win.
For the most part, Charleston will look to have effective possession but not necessarily rely on having the ball to create chances. This team knows how to put games away and isn’t in first place in their conference for nothing. If Atlanta gets an early lead, this match will be a good chance for the team to show that they can keep it and not let their opponent equalize or even go ahead. On the other side, if Charleston manages to jump out ahead, United needs to show they can breakdown teams.
Even if it is a non-MLS game, United doesn’t want to be riding a three game losing streak heading into next weekend and, especially in a game they’re favored to win against a team from the second division, need to right the tracks and get back on the boat so to speak.
Garbanzos and Rochezes: Players to watch
Mentioned above, Atlanta may be looking to rest their starters and see what they have in some of the players who haven’t featured as much recently. At forward, coach Martino has options like Brandon Vazquez who has a goal already this year and is full of promise while Bryan Rochez could have a chance to show he’s worth the risk Atlanta took in giving him a roster spot. Homegrown players Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin may also start or make appearances in the match as well.
For Charleston, they feature a 6’5” center back named Forest Lasso who is an intimidating presence in the air with a nose for goal in addition to being solid in the back. Midfielder Ricky Garbanzo is seemingly everywhere on the field and has the best name in sports this side of his teammate defender Naveal Hackshaw. Atlanta United loanees Jeffery Otoo and Alex Tambakis may also feature for the visitors.