Major League Soccer may be off for a Gold Cup break as international soccer takes center stage for the summer, but there’s another cup up for grabs for Atlanta United –– and their chance to win it starts this week. The Five Stripes travel to face a familiar opponent in USL side Charleston Battery in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup in what is always an exciting night of knockout soccer.
It all kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday from MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, and will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Atlanta United is coming off a well-deserved week off from MLS play after piling up six wins in eight matches over a 27-day span over the course of May. With the red, black and gold off from league play until June 26th, they can give their full attention to a Battery side that has proven to be a challenge for plenty of MLS teams in the past.
They’ll have to do it without the reigning MLS MVP, as Josef Martinez heads off to Copa America with Venezuela after topping the U.S. Men’s National Team in a friendly in Dallas on Sunday. He joins Ezequiel Barco as forwards who are out of contention for the match, as the U-20 Argentina star travels back from his own international duties over the past month. But there are plenty of other options in attack, and Frank de Boer may reach into his plethora of attacking options like Justin Meram, Romario Williams, Brandon Vazquez and more, with players eager to take a cup competition as a chance to prove they’re ready for more first-team minutes.
Whenever a team goes on the road in cup competition, it’s important be sturdy in the back –– especially when you face a team as physical and direct as the Charleston Battery. Fortunately, Atlanta United boasts the top defense in Major League Soccer so far this year, and aside from George Bello recovering from long-term injury, Frank de Boer has everyone at his disposal from the back line. The tried and true pairing of Miles Robinson and Leandro González Pirez will be ready to go, while Florentin Pogba, who excelled in his first MLS start just last month, will be eager to get another start under his belt. If they can stay solid and keep the Battery out of the net, it will go a long way to help their side secure a bid in the next round of the competition.
Atlanta United’s Open Cup opponents may play in the USL, but as one of the oldest clubs in American soccer, the Charleston Battery have plenty of history being a thorn in the side of top-division clubs.
Fortunately, the Five Stripes will face the Battery without their top scorer in Zeiko Lewis, the 2017 Red Bulls MLS SuperDraft pick who is off on international duty with Bermuda for the Gold Cup. But the Atlanta United back line will have a handful with one of two powerful target forwards that lead the Charleston front line in 6’4” South African striker Arthur Bosua or 6’6” American target forward Ian Svantesson. Lining up behind them looking to pull the strings will be a pair of creative midfielders in Romario Piggott and Kotaro Higashi who will be looking to find fullbacks bombing forward down the side in Charleston’s preferred 3-4-3 formation.
The back line is another trio of physical players that will make Atlanta earn every chance on goal. Taylor Mueller is the defensive leader, and will have to step up even more in the absence of Trinidad and Tobago defender Leland Archer, who is off at the Gold Cup as well. American center back Jarad van Schaik will round out the back line in front of Joe Kuzminsky in the Battery goal. Atlanta United may have more skillful players, but the Battery are known for being stronger than the sum of their parts –– especially at home, where they are unbeaten so far this year. But they haven’t played a team as talented as Atlanta United so far this year, so the Five Stripes will be hoping their quality can take them over the line against a strong USL side eager to play spoiler to an MLS side’s quest for silverware.
It’s a chance for silverware and the excitement of knockout club soccer –– so it’s one you won’t want to miss. Tune at 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN+ to catch all the action.