Atlanta United’s U.S. Open Cup dreams for 2017 are over after Kwadwo Poku, a former Atlanta Silverbacks midfielder, saw his shot at the death trickle past Alec Kann and into the net to secure Miami FC’s passage into the next round. Here’s what we learned from the round-of-16 cup match:
The kids are gonna be alright
It’s time to stop worrying about some of the younger prospects in our squad. Andrew Carleton, who just turned 17, played the full 90 minutes and looked very dangerous throughout the match . In the first half, the Locust Grove native found plenty of space cutting in on his right foot from the left, and later caused havoc when he switched sides and played on the right flank.
Later in the second half, another of Atlanta’s promising youngsters, the newly-signed winger Lagos Kunga, showed his quick feet and composure on the ball. While he’s a bit more of a raw talent than Carleton, both of the kids showed their talents and why they are such crucial pieces of the club’s future. Neither player seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, which almost feels like a silly excuse to make for them at this point. Kunga will make his way to feature for the Charleston Battery for the rest of the season after this match, but Carleton will remain with the squad — and it’s time to stop being scared to throw him in the fire. He’s on a professional contract and he’s clearly skilled. I hope we get to see him make more appearances as a sub in league play this season.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention 18-year-old Brandon Vazquez, who is on fire right now. He scored again and looked great on the wing.
Brandon Vazquez: A Pretty Good Winger pic.twitter.com/R8LAMjviv0— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) June 29, 2017
(^ that’s not even sped up)
Some veteran squad players looked off the pace
While the kids were the players us fans were primarily concerned about, it was the older, more experienced players who really let the team down tonight. Chris McCann struggled to neutralize Poku as the Ghanaian powered his way right through the center of midfield on several occasions. But stopping Poku with the ball is a tall task for any defensive player. What Tata Martino will be more disappointed with is the way McCann, Harrison Heath, and others gave the ball away so cheaply in dangerous areas of the field. These turnovers were like gifts for Miami as they converted them into good scoring chances — something that’s plagued Atlanta all year. The defensive midfielders in particular were exposed to the physical challenge Poku presents, because Miami’s forwards, who were locked in 1v1 situations with Atlanta’s CBs, would drift wide and opening an avenue for Poku to carry the ball up field.
Going away from midfield, I was hoping we’d see an improved performance from Tyrone Mears after he was rested in the league over the weekend. We last saw Mears in what is undoubtedly his worst performance of the season a week ago at D.C. United. While Wednesday was an improvement on that outing, he still left much to be desired, and I worry that his legs just aren’t there at this point in the season. (And to be fair to Mears, he’s 34... he’s in the twilight of his playing career.) There was a glaring moment in the 2nd half that made it obviously clear. Lagos Kunga had the ball at his feet and after not seeing a passing option inside, dumped the ball wide without looking, expecting Mears to be approaching on the overlap. Instead, he was 20 yards behind the ball, not even looking to try to get forward. The good news is that Mark Bloom acquitted himself well at LB, and should be an option to fill a Mears-sized hole going forward.
Atlanta has a major issue securing leads
This one is a real head-scratcher. I usually chalk these types of things up to coincidence/randomness of the game, but Atlanta is establishing a serious trend here. I’ll leave it to the “capital J journalists” to dig up the exact numbers on how often we’ve squandered leads this year, but it’s happened far too many times this year. And it’s not just a failure to keep clean sheets, but we have a worrying habit of conceding very shortly after scoring ourselves. I can recall games at TOR, at MTL, at POR, and vs. Charleston off the top of my head where we’ve given up a lead within about 5 minutes of claiming it ourselves. I’m not sure if it’s a tactical or mental problem, but it’s definitely a trend at this point.