Atlanta United was eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup last night after suffering a 1-0 defeat to the Chicago Fire in front of a record crowd. However, nothing about the match seemed to throw off head coach Tata Martino during the post-match press conference. In fact, there was an aura of assurance as he discussed it. When asked if he was surprised at the Fire’s decision to play a nearly full strength lineup, Martino had this to say.
“No, it doesn’t surprise me. We analyzed the game beforehand and thought one of the scenarios that they could use would be to go with their full team. We know they’re in a difficult place in the league and that they might want to give everything they have in the Open Cup, but at the end of the day, I don’t think that’s why we lost the game. I don’t think you can really say the result was a factor of the difference in the two teams. Even though we put out some younger players and they had an experienced team, it was pretty even.”
This is interesting because Martino admits that he was prepared to face one of Chicago’s strongest and most experiences sides. Even with that knowledge, he still chose to incorporate a majority of depth pieces into a side that was held together by just two regulars in Miguel Almiron and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Perhaps that tells anyone who paid attention to a) the match, b) the historic nature of some MLS teams like Atlanta that utilize the US Open Cup as an outlet to play depth pieces, and c) Atlanta’s clear focus on league play, all they really needed to know.
Martino wasn’t nearly as disappointed in the result as he was disappointed in the fact that those bench players won’t have another channel for additional minutes this season.
“I think the only thing we lost tonight is the opportunity to see those guys play more and see what they can do. Being knocked out of this competition now, we lose that opportunity. Brandon Vazquez, Miles Robinson, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams, Sal Zizzo would’ve had other opportunities because we understand that in league play, it’s a bit more difficult for those guys to get on the field.”
Martino allowed those players to showcase their talents largely without the team’s key players. He wanted to continue to take part in this competition more for them than for a trophy, and that’s been made clear the past two cup campaigns. When the veteran coach saw the team struggling on Wednesday night, he brought on players like Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel in hopes of keeping the flame alive.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. However, that’s another lesson learned for an inexperienced half of the team hoping to find ways to contribute throughout the regular season as Atlanta continues to chase their first piece of hardware.