Atlanta United will take the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field Wednesday night with a different prize on their mind. The Chicago Fire is the next test in the team’s quest for a U.S. Open Cup, a separate competition from Major League Soccer. Atlanta United leadership has called the Open Cup a priority this year, but with the Five Stripes competing at the top of the table, fans may be wondering why when there’s fixtures piling up in the league. First, any chance at silverware is one teams take seriously. But perhaps even more important is what this trophy would mean for next season.
The CONCACAF Champions League is the annual competition between the top teams in North America, a yearly face-off between the best teams in MLS, LigaMX, Costa Rica’s Liga FPD and more. With Atlanta United aiming to become a globally-renowned club, the first step has always been to first dominate the region –– and the CONCACAF Champions League is the best way to do that. Four teams from MLS qualify for the tournament every year, and that is determined by domestic cup success. Sporting Kansas City has already claimed one spot in the 2019 tournament after winning the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. They will be joined by the winners of the 2018 MLS Cup and the 2018 U.S. Open Cup. There’s no doubt that Atlanta United has their eyes on the ultimate prize of an MLS Cup, but guaranteeing their spot in next year’s tournament early with a win in the Open Cup would only make the club more confident moving forward.
There is another way for Atlanta United to earn a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. Because Canadian side Toronto FC won the MLS Cup last year, their spot has to be taken by an American side, as the United States gets four bids to the tournament. That will be determined this year by the American team with the highest point total over the past two seasons. Atlanta United currently leads that race, but it’s virtually a dead heat with New York City and the Columbus Crew just behind with games in hand.
The MLS Cup can be a grueling gauntlet, a season-long test against the very best in the league. And the combined point total is another tough test with nothing set in stone. Relatively, the U.S. Open Cup is much less: a win on Wednesday would mean Atlanta United would face a USL side –– either Louisville City or Nashville SC –– then win one more match against an MLS foe to make it to the final. In short: four more wins, and Atlanta United has its first senior trophy.
The U.S. Open Cup is a tournament that MLS sides have been known to push to the side, but Atlanta United leadership has said all year that America’s oldest cup competition is a major priority this year. It’s the most sure way for the red, black and gold to earn a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, and a major step for the club to realize its international ambitions.
Tickets to Wednesday’s match against the Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup are still available, but they’re going fast. With the club expected to break the U.S. Open Cup attendance record, you better click here to reserve your spot for the historic night in an electric, do-or-die cup environment.