The Round of 16 is the final stop in Atlanta United’s U.S. Open Cup journey for the second year in a row after Atlanta United fell just short against the Chicago Fire in front of yet another record-breaking crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Tata Martino kept his four-man back line formation for another match, but shuffled up the personnel quite a bit to give Atlanta United’s depth players a chance to shine. Romario Williams, Brandon Vazquez, Alec Kann, Kevin Kratz and Sal Zizzo were all named in the starting lineup as well Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu with his first start in 5-Stripes after a strong showing for many of them in the last round of the tournament. The full XI: Alec Kann (GK), Mikey Ambrose (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Sal Zizzo (RB), Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu (CM), Kevin Kratz (CM), Brandon Vazquez (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Romario Williams (ST).
Atlanta United and the Fire traded body blows for much of the first half, with both teams struggling to create clear-cut chances against disciplined defensive teams. That’s the way the score would remain heading into halftime, as both teams entered the break looking to get a spark in the second half. And Chicago pounced just after half, stringing together a passing move that ended with a cross across Alec Kann’s goal and eventually tapped in by last year’s Golden Boot winner, Nemanja Nikolic, at the back post.
The Five Stripes battled for every ball in the final half hour as they fought for their tournament lives, with 41,012 rowdy and proud Atlanta United fans cheering them on –– an all-time record crowd for a U.S. Open Cup match. Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel both brought drive to the midfield, with Andrew Carleton adding his own magic later in the game.
The red, black and gold came close time after time, with Tito Villalba’s deflected shot smacking off the crossbar after coming inches from the equalizer. But it wasn’t meant to be with Chicago slowing down the match in the final minutes and holding on for the win. It’s the second time in two seasons that Atlanta United has fallen out of the Open Cup in the 5th round.
It was a disappointing night for the Five Stripes, but there’s plenty more for the team to look forward to, and no time to dwell on a tough result. Atlanta United remains at the top of the Eastern Conference and in the drivers’ seat for the MLS Supporters' Shield. And they still have the best aggregate record in the league over the past season and a half –– the final way to earn a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions’ League.
The team will look to build on both of those point totals this weekend as they host the Portland Timbers in a can’t-miss match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday against one of the premier teams in the Western Conference. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.