KENNESAW — Nifty footwork was met with 120-minute composure from Atlanta United to defeat Charleston Battery in extra time, 3-1, in Thursday’s fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The match was originally scheduled for Tuesday in Charleston, but unplayable field conditions forced the game to Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Because of the short notice, the match was closed to the public, and the silence from the stands played a role in Atlanta’s sluggish start.
“It’s not the ideal preparation, but both teams have to deal with it,” Atlanta manager Frank de Boer said. “It’s a pity we started 20 minutes too late. After that we really came into them and had our chances.”
The Battery took advantage of Atlanta’s slow start, with Ian Svantesson scoring in the 20th minute. The goal served as a mild wake up call for Atlanta, who began to press up the rest of the night.
For Atlanta, frustrations took over in the first half, despite leading the visitors in nearly every category. United had better possessions, more shots and lead the Battery in corner attempts, seven to none.
Forward Justin Meram wasn’t thrown off by the unique playing circumstances, and stayed focused when he came on in the 58th minute.
“It was a game. You have to be locked in,” Meram said. “Obviously, not a great start for us, but we dug in there and found a way to get a result, which is promising.”
Charleston played a very defensive game, especially after they scored, keeping at least two defenders back to void any chance for an Atlanta counterpunch. The second half was much more productive for the United offense.
Atlanta had 10 shots, nine of them on goal in the first 30 minutes of the second half. After four shots gone array, forward Romario Williams scored for Atlanta to tie the game in the 78th minute.
The chance was initiated by Meram who led the home team in spreading out the Charleston defense.
“We had to make runs behind and that is what I was doing to kind of just pull the outer back,” Meram said. “Once we started makes runs, they’re going to have to stay out wide and not say so compact and get in behind them.”
The game couldn’t be decided in regulation so to extra time it went.
Atlanta was on full throttle for both extra time periods, capitalizing in the second 15 minute period.
Brandon Vazquez cut across on a nice cross from Meram to give Atlanta its first lead of the night.
“It definitely helped my confidence,” Vazquez said. “I’ve been out for a couple months now, so this definitely helped with my mentality coming on.”
Charleston threw a few more attempts at Alec Kann in goal, but a second goal from Vazquez took the resistance off.
“We showed character and that we fight until the end,” de Boer said. “Compliments to Charleston Battery because they pushed us to the limit. We got some extra training today which might be good for the guys, but I prefer we get it done in regular time.”
Ultimately there was no one in the stands to witness Atlanta’s fourth round victory. It was an eerie sight, but the players still treated it like any other game.
“We all come out with the same mentality, whether its 80,000 or 30 people,” Vazquez said. “Our mind is on the game, so we have to perform either way.”
Atlanta United will head to its third straight U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 where it will face Columbus on the road.
The players and head manager fielded questions about the importance of an Open Cup game versus an MLS game. All were in agreeance that every game is vital.
“The only thing we can do is losing,” de Boer said. “If you win its normal. If you lose its disaster.”