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The Five Stripes Recap: Open Cup, GA Cup, MLS, and More

Atlanta was rather busy this week

MLS: US Open Cup-Chattanooga FC at Atlanta United Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This was an exceptionally busy week for Atlanta United and to save anyone reading this from an entire essay, this recap is going to be a bit different. Between the two matches, injury news, rumors, non-rumors, and GA Cup this past week, there has been tons to cover. It seems like ages ago that Brad Guzan was laid out on the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but at this point the Polar Bear is already receiving treatment and has gone through surgery. Where does the time go? What did we do last year during the ridiculous schedule congestion? Regardless, let’s dive in to the past week and give you everything you need to know about Atlanta United.

It all started with a very winnable match against F.C. Cincinnati at home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It ended with no goals scored despite the Five Stripes turning on the pressure over and over again. It honestly felt like the match could’ve been 3-1 Atlanta (or more for Cincinnati, Atlanta’s defense had a couple of shaky moments), but the ball just wouldn’t go in the back of the net. Former Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann showed his quality as a starter and made a few good saves, including the penalty that Caleb Wiley drew. Marcelino Moreno stepped up to the spot and Alec Kann knew it the whole time; Mando was going right, and Kann took the step well before Moreno’s foot touched the ball.

It’s also worth noting that Thiago Almada is balling, and though he hasn’t been able to net another one since his golazo and goal of the week winner a couple of weeks ago, he is showing his quality every moment on the pitch. That’s probably why he continues to be voted to drive in the Golden Spike.

The biggest story from the Cincinnati match, however, was yet another injury. In the middle of the second half, Brad Guzan went down in a heap as he came out of goal to receive a recycled pass. No one was around; there was no contact, it just looked like he landed funky on his foot and suddenly he was gesturing to his leg and waving for the physio staff. Fast forward a couple of days and the diagnosis is a ruptured Achilles. The good news is he’s already been through a surgery, the bad news is that it left Atlanta United in a precarious position with their goalkeeper depth.

With Dylan Castanheira also going out with a ruptured Achilles, that left Bobby Shuttleworth, Justin Garces, and Vicente Reyes as the true options between the first and second teams. Thankfully, Atlanta was able to use two of it’s Extreme Hardship signings to bring Garces up for the U.S. Open Cup match and the weekend match against Inter Miami. Now, between reports from Felipe Cardenas, Cesar Luis Merlo, Rocco’s own Instagram stories, and Darren Eales’ mouth this morning, it seems set in stone that our old pal Rocco Rios Novo will be joining the Five Stripes once again from Lanus on a loan. We’ll almost certainly see him as the backup to Bobby Shuttleworth, leaving Garces and Reyes full time with the 2’s.

In the midst of all of those shenanigans, it was also revealed that Atlanta has some pretty serious interest in USMNT attacker Matthew Hoppe.

In many ways, this transaction makes a lot of sense, and in others it’s incredibly confusing/somewhat worrying. Let’s look at the positives first.

Matthew Hoppe hasn’t had a ton of time with the USMNT. He’s hungry and isn’t getting much time in La Liga with Mallorca, so he’s being starved of an opportunity to show he can work his way into that number 9 spot that no one has on lock under Gregg Berhalter’s squad. Furthermore, he would come in on a U-22 initiative and his salary isn’t anything crazy at this point, so financially the young forward makes a lot of sense. Also, he adds a ridiculous amount of dark arts capability much in the same way Dom Dwyer does i.e. he’s incredibly annoying to play against.

This is where things get sort of muddy, however. Atlanta has options up front. Josef is, of course, recovering from a mild knee surgery, while Dom Dwyer, Ronaldo Cisneros, and Jackson Conway are all competing for minutes. They’ve all shown flashes of certain qualities, but no one has been able to breakthrough as the true Josef backup/replacement (though Dom made a good case in the Open Cup match, more on that in a moment). Cisneros has only received a bit of time, though the two decent chances he’s had he didn’t have the final touch necessary to put the ball in the back of the net, and Jackson Conway feels like he’s stuck somewhere between USL and MLS in terms of finishing. Cisneros is only on loan for part of the season, so it appears the leash is short in terms of keeping him around if the production doesn’t happen quickly. Conway feels like he’s one goal away from breaking out, but he’s had opportunities and unfortunately just hasn’t taken advantage of them. This, of course, leaves Dom Dwyer as the backup to Josef, so where would Matthew Hoppe fit in?

It’s hard to say at this point. Does the front office know something about Josef’s knee or mindset they’re concerned with and they’re already trying to get ahead of the game on THE replacement? It’s a possibility, but this surgery should, in theory, help Josef come back to the best form he’s been in since 2019. Letting go of Cisneros and loaning out Jackson could make sense, while keeping Josef and Dwyer to groom Hoppe for that next step in his career. Who knows, and this is all speculation, but Atlanta United’s chief scout Jonathan Spector took a visit to Mallorca to watch Matthew...sit.

Moving forward to midweek, Atlanta United began it’s title defense of the U.S. Open Cup, a trophy it has now held for three years thanks to the club being the most legit in existence COVID. First of all, props to Chattanooga F.C. for stepping into Fifth-Third Bank Stadium to participate in Action at the Fraction, and making it a point to try and play their brand of football. The Five Stripes’ quality showed, however, and they were finally able to find the back of the net after two previous shutouts. The final score wound up being 6-0, thanks to a Dom Dwyer brace (and they were pretty goals) plus additions by Araujo, Hernandez, Lennon, and Moreno.

Atlanta United needed a dominant win like this. At this point it’s been screamed from the rooftops but it doesn’t matter where the goals come from. Sometimes stacking the deck on an opponent you know you can defeat handily is the best way to get momentum on your side, so here’s hoping that carries over into MLS play and beyond.

The Five Stripes’ next round in the U.S. Open Cup happens May 11th at 8 PM eastern against Nashville in their brand new stadium. It won’t be an easy task, but it isn’t insurmountable, either. Between now and then more players will be getting healthy, and perhaps Cisneros will be able to get into form at the number 9 position along with Dwyer. Most importantly will be Luiz Araujo’s return and chemistry with Almada and Moreno, a trio which may be what it takes to crack Nashville’s shell. Speaking of Araujo, his goal in the Open Cup match against Chattanooga you can see in the clip above is absolute beauty.

Finally, it’s time to celebrate the Atlanta United Academy. The U-17’s and U-15’s finished off the Generation Adidas Cup in the Round of 16 and the semi-finals respectively.

Adyn Torres made the competition’s best XI, with a couple of others with honorable mentions in Ashton Gordon and Rocket Ritarita (what a name and in many years when he turns 21 there better be a margarita named after him in the Benz). Needless to say, this was a successful competition for the young boys and an absolute gem of an experience for them.

The Academy also had 15 different players commit to colleges across the country, which is a huge step in their careers. The rate at which the Academy is churning out talent is awesome, and the team has already been reaping those benefits in the likes of guys like George Campbell and Caleb Wiley.

Lastly, Tyler Wolff and Noah Cobb have both received their own national team call ups. Wolff heads to the U-20 national team while Cobb is off to the U19 squad.

And that’ll do it folks. There’s been a lot happening around the land of the Five Stripes but there’s a sense of cautious optimism heading into the weekend. Hopefully Atlanta can carry on its dominating Open Cup performance into a solid away win in Fort Lauderdale. As usual, we’ll be on Twitter Spaces after the fact chatting about how it goes down, so be sure to jump into the conversation with us!