Atlanta United are back on the road this week for their second-ever U.S. Open Cup match. After knocking out USL side Charleston Battery earlier this month, the red, black and gold will face NASL league leaders Miami FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium in South Florida. While they may sit a “tier” below, Miami are unbeaten in 13 matches, including a 3-1 win over MLS side Orlando City in the previous round. Here's what fans of the Five Stripes can expect out of their opponents Wednesday:
Coached by legendary Italian defender Alessandro Nesta, Miami FC are without a doubt the best passers in the North American Soccer League. Of the top ten players with the most passes in their league this year, five of them play for Miami FC. Midfielder Richie Ryan was the best possession passer in their league this year, and when it’s time to break forward with the decisive pass, look out for midfielders Dylan Mares and Kwadwo Poku, who are tied with the league lead in chances created. Poku – formerly of NYCFC and the Atlanta Silverbacks – and seven-year MLS veteran Michael Lahoud bring a first-division level of quality to the NASL midfield, and will be a danger throughout for Atlanta’s defense.
When breaking down Miami’s front line, it’s easy to look at their win over Orlando City and think it all comes through Brazilian forward Stéfano Pinho, who notched a hat trick. And there’s no doubt that Pinho – NASL’s Golden Boot winner in 2015 – poses a true threat, but it’s his strike partner that has pushed Miami FC to the top of the NASL Spring standings. Vincenzo Rennella led the league with 8 goals and 31 shots, tied for first in assists and ranked near the top in chances created for the club as well. The French forward has experience in the top divisions of Italy and Spain, and is currently on loan from second division Spanish side Valladolid. He brings a bit of European class to the front line that Atlanta’s defenders will have to keep a close eye on come Wednesday night.
Keeping up the Pressure
While Miami FC’s defense was the best in NASL last year – taking after their coach, one of the best defenders of all time – they are not without weaknesses. Fullback Hunter Freeman has a few years of MLS experience, but otherwise there is very little top-level experience throughout their back line. Atlanta’s best offensive game plan could actually start with defense. Miami is a team that likes to dominate possession with lots of short passing, and Atlanta’s now-renowned press could force their ball-handlers into mistakes that lead to counter-attacking opportunities. If Atlanta’s press remains consistently strong and organized, it could cause problems for Miami up and down the field.
Wednesday’s game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST from Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida. Make sure to tune in to the game right here on ATLUTD.com/live, where the game will be livestreamed.