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Three thoughts on Atlanta United advancing to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals

A good win.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Saint Louis FC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United defeated Saint Louis FC 2-0 on Wednesday night to secure their place in the last four of the U.S. Open Cup. They will take on Orlando City at a venue to be determined. The Five Stripes dominated the entire match and finally broke through in the second half. After taking the lead, they saw the rest of the match out before adding the clincher deep into stoppage time. Here are a few thoughts on the win:

A Good Start

The everlasting Pity Martinez debate rages on after the Argentine playmaker put in one of his better shifts of the season in the win. The caveat of the opposition being a lower division side is obvious, but you can only play the team put in front of you. I won’t exaggerate Pity’s performance too much. It was very solid and consistent. And consistency is what we all really want. He’s sprinkled in highlight moments throughout the season but it’s that 90-minute performance that has really been missing. The Red Bulls match being a prime example of this. He looked extremely bright in the opening 20 minutes, set up a goal and then things went south. He started getting frustrated and then ultimately his level of play dropped and was pulled off after an hour.

This match we finally got a consistently impactful performance. His combination play with Josef Martinez early in the match was beautiful. One moment in particular should’ve led a goal for Pity, but his shot couldn’t find the target. He didn’t let that get him down though. He finally pulled that magic out of his hat early in the second half with a lovely finish chipped/curled to the far post.

It wasn’t a perfect showing by any means. He still had a head-scratching pass or decision here or there. But all in all it was much better and a good start on the path to an improved overall run of form.

A Better Start

Speaking of setting off on the right path, Emerson Hyndman’s debut for Atlanta United was a very good one. He was a handful for St. Louis all night as proven by how many times he was able to get on the end of chances. He had at least five chances to score by my count. While he wasn’t able to convert, his presence was obvious. He reminds me of a more dynamic and dangerous Nagbe. While he may not be the technical savant that Darlington is, he offers a lot of the same in transition. He can push the ball up or control play with his technical quality. But what he adds is that dynamism in front of goal. Late runs out of midfield to get on the end of a cross or to open up room for the other attackers. Hyndman’s role may not differ a ton from the other Atlanta midfielders but his skill set does.

The big question now is, what will his role be going forward? Julian Gressel appeared to be the player sacrificed to get him in the lineup this time. Will that be the case going forward? Was this just a chance to get the new guy minutes and Gressel some rest? It’s clear that he has the quality for us to start asking these questions. Now it’s up to De Boer to answer them.

Priority No. 1

It should be clear now that winning the U.S. Open Cup has jumped up to the top of Atlanta United’s season priority list. De Boer’s substitution pattern is a big clue to that. He made no attempt to save anyone’s legs for the upcoming cross-country trip to Seattle on Sunday. All the focus was on closing out the win in this tournament to get to the semifinals.

It makes sense if you think about it. Atlanta are a cool 13 points behind LAFC in the Supporters Shield race. There’s plenty of regular season left to jockey for playoff positioning. Focusing all your efforts on winning the most attainable trophy just makes logical sense. All-in, as they say.