I was back, it was just for a short time to move the family while I wrap things up in my day job here in Pennsylvania, but it was glorious. The second we drove into Georgia someone cut into my lane without signaling, passed the car they were behind, and then cut across three lanes of traffic to exit the interstate. It made me indescribably happy. The trip had everything, good food, seeing friends, unpacking boxes (never move), and soccer. Unexpectedly I was invited to see the Venezuela vs. Mexico friendly and damn near cried when I saw the stadium. I think intellectually I knew I’d be coming home but that was the first time I really felt it and it was overwhelming.
I even had an amazing time at the airport flying back. The security line said 15-30 minutes, but looking at the number of families with infants and clusters of youth groups headed to Central America to do mission work, I smiled because I knew - it would be much longer. Naturally when in line the topic of discussion from my fellow travelers centered around the line they were in. A pair of Alpharetta Dads in front of me began trauma bonding over the line and even found a third line stander to form a committee on lines. After extensive discussion they determined the cause of the problem and then workshopped a number of solutions that included asking the TSA agent to see how much longer they’d be standing in line to ensure an efficient and timely way to get travelers through security. Sadly they could not locate a manager to speak to so couldn’t present their ideas in a logical and reasonable manner. I didn’t participate, I have an idea though - guys if you’re reading, have you heard of Minnesota United’s new clear bag policy?
Aside from hearing about how sales reps headed to Omaha for the week would fix the airport I noticed a good bit of Atlanta United gear adorning my fellow passengers. Not an overwhelming amount, but at least as many people were wearing Five Stripes gear as Braves, Hawks, and Falcons stuff and I can’t wait to be immersed in it in four short weeks.
Before that, Atlanta United will start the US Open Cup. It will be... interesting to see how it shakes out. Josef Martinez is with the Vino Tinto, Julian Gressel is currently wearing a suit wholly made of KT tape, Tito is injured, and there’s currently a two week break for the third most important international soccer tournament happening right now. It’s the perfect time for the US Open Cup to start!
The Battery come into the match in dominant form at home and is undefeated at MUSC Health Stadium this year. Things are a different on the road where the team has struggled and as a result, Charleston sits in 8th in the USL Championship East table. One of the matches where they had issues was in the recent USOC win against Nashville. In that match Charleston scored in the 24th minute in Tennessee, but lost the lead in the 72nd in a game they eventually won in penalties.
Atlanta will be coming into the match having played a murderous schedule over the last three months. Given that it will be more of a “B” team for the Five Stripes, the Battery could pull an upset at home. As Jonathan Ace told Sydney yesterday, the team will be missing some key players, but the core of the side seems to be intact. If Ian Svantesson can find space behind the Atlanta backline and Taylor Mueller and the Battery defense can hold off the attack, this could be where the Open Cup ends for the visitors.
Additionally, Charleston will perhaps have extra motivation in the game. Over the last two years, Atlanta has knocked them out of the tournament, including a come from behind win in 2017. With the winner set to face either Memphis 901 or Orlando City, a win also sets up nicely for a potential Cinderella run for the team if they advance.
Is that... IS THAT ALEC KANN’S MUSIC?
Odds are that we’ll get to see some familiar faces that we haven’t in a while for this game. In addition, traveling fans may get to once again chant: “HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN, HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN, HE’S ALEC KANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN, HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN” and the exact same thing for Andrew Carleton if he manages to find his way into the XI. With Julian Gressel out getting some much needed rest and the rest of the squad also possibly in need of a week off, this may be a chance for Frank de Boer to see how some of the depth pieces on the squad do in a competitive match.
A big question for the team will be at striker - Josef Martinez is with Venezuela and Tito Villalba is injured. It could be a chance for Romario Williams to show he deserves minutes in league games or for Brandon Vazquez to get things back on track after disappearing over the last half of 2018. Another option might be Brek Shea, he knows the system and has come in for Josef as a sub in the past, though with Tito and Barco not available he may be better suited for the wing this week. We may also find out if Kevin Kratz still exists and if Pity Martinez can continue to show the strides he’s made in recent matches. Adding to these questions is the fact that only five international players can be in the 18 at a time for any team, so roster selection is as fun as it is challenging in the tournament.
Which trophy does Atlanta United want to win?
Every year when the Open Cup comes around every team in MLS asks - do we care? The stakes are low, the prize money somehow lower, the visibility non-existent, and the downside is high. Still...
Nobody wants to punt on a tournament and a chance to win something shinny. Still, if Atlanta wants to win the Open Cup it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen with the players deeper on the roster. In the last two years, the team has struggled in the tournament and was eliminated by two teams it should have beaten, though you really can’t do anything to stop Poku.
Frank de Boer’s system has been difficult to implement for the first XI, so it may be another case where if a second-tier XI plays another early exit may be in the cards again this year. On the other hand, Atlanta is definitely talented and deep enough to make a run in the Open Cup, to do that they’ll have to avoid an upset in South Carolina tonight.