It’s the hope that kills you. Just when you think this was going to be a fun run to the U.S. Open Cup final, culminating with Atlanta United and Tata Martino triumphantly hoisting the trophy, it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Atlanta United’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup hopes for 2018 are done after a 0-1 loss to the Chicago Fire.
A huge opportunity has been squandered
Atlanta United’s brand is built on brash confidence—to the point of arrogance at times—and there’s no doubt that it’s working. It’s a marketing strategy that has paid off in spades for the club and has helped guide the franchise to its current place among the most prestigious MLS clubs in only its second season of existence. But for the “arrogance” brand to work long term, the results on the field must back it up, lest the brand is exposed as a fraud. Simply put, despite being in only its second year, Atlanta needs to walk the walk.
The 2018 U.S. Open Cup unfolded as a perfect opportunity to do just that. Having defeated a plucky USL side in the Charleston Battery to move into the Round of 16, Atlanta had a clear and smooth path to the final—or so they thought. Chicago would have been the most difficult team they’d face until the final. Atlanta would have played a USL team guaranteed in the next round, and if they’d won that, the semi-final would’ve been against D.C. United, Philadelphia Union or Orlando City. One can face much more difficult opposition than that to reach a cup final. But alas, the Five Stripes did not get the result they needed, and a great opportunity they had for silverware this year has gone begging. Thankfully, Atlanta has put itself in a position to win the Supporters’ Shield and, failing that, MLS Cup, so all hope is not lost.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez deservedly wore the armband in U.S. Open Cup
Seeing the yellow band around Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s left bicep just looked right. It felt right. This year’s USOC campaign was LGP’s first time wearing the captain’s armband for Atlanta United, and deservedly so. The Argentine center back has been a model professional since joining the expansion club before last season. He quickly settled in as one of the first names on the team sheet, he established himself as an MLS Best XI player last season, and off the field, he’s set down roots in Atlanta. On top of his achievements, he’s got the qualities you want out of a captain. His english is very good to communicate with officials, he’s got the personality to fire up the squad, and he’s put in the sweat equity to back it all up. While it wasn’t a great night for Atlanta United, LGP should be proud to have captained the club for the first time, and we are happy he’s here.
Poor team selection doomed Atlanta
Tata Martino simply got the team selection wrong, and it hindered Atlanta’s ability to progress and play through certain areas of the field—especially down the left where Brandon Vazquez was deployed. Brandon Vazquez is not a left winger/attacking midfielder. Pure and simple. Vazquez has something to offer Atlanta United at this early stage of his career, but playing on a wing is not conducive to his strengths as a player (of which he has many). He is a center forward. He needs to be playing around the box and in positions where he can leverage his strength and physical stature. On the wing, where pace and touch is a priority, he understandably struggles. It’s no surprise that Atlanta’s left side Wednesday night was tepid at best.
Andrew Carleton would’ve been a better selection here. It’s one of his natural positions, and he’s been in good form of late, with one of his best performances of the year coming in a rain delayed half for ATL UTD 2 over the weekend. I have to think that Martino is aware of this and that he may have given the edge to Vazquez as a sign of confidence and a nod to his seniority. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see why Vazquez should get the benefit of the doubt again, at least in wide positions. He’s still a decent backup for Josef, and can make a difference in late game situations off the bench like we saw last year.