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Match Preview: Atlanta United vs Saint Louis FC

Atlanta United’s rollercoaster weekend league matchup against the New York Red Bulls is in the rearview mirror, and now it’s back to cup competition with the Five Stripes just three wins away from silverware in the U.S. Open Cup. Atlanta United face one of just two USL sides left in the competition in Saint Louis FC, who boast two wins over MLS sides already. They’ll have to be sharp to move on to the final four teams in the competition.

The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN+. For details on how to follow the match, click here.

Atlanta United

Atlanta United is looking to get back on track after one win in their last four matches, but with nine wins in their previous eleven, they know they have what it takes once they fit all the pieces together. And with six goals in their two U.S. Open Cup matches so far, they’ll be looking to keep their form in knockout play alive against a USL Championship side.

This weekend marked the return of Josef Martinez, who came back from Copa America on fire with a two-goal performance against the New York Red Bulls. Brandon Vazquez has been the U.S. Open Cup hero so far this season with four of the team’s six goals in the Cup so far, and after 30 effective minutes alongside Martinez against the Red Bulls, he’s shown he’s capable of slotting in as a lone striker or alongside Josef in the attack. Jeff Larentowicz’s late red card in that game will see him suspended from the next league game, but he is available for this match, while center back Leandro González Pirez is back available for selection after serving his one-match suspension for a red card two matches ago.

Tito Villalba, George Bello and Kevin Kratz remain out with long-term injuries, and this match may come too soon for Ezequiel Barco’s return from the injury list. But Justin Meram has filled in incredibly in his absence with three goals in his last two appearances, both at home. He joins the likes of Pity Martinez, Julian Gressel and Dion Pereira as other options for Frank de Boer to line up behind the striker. And there’s no new injury news in the back line for a defensive unit eager to bounce back from some uncharacteristically leaky performance as they look to recapture their rock-solid form that has made them one of the most effective defensive sides in the league this year. If they can do that and keep a clean sheet, their quality up top should be enough to push them to the next round.

Saint Louis FC

Saint Louis FC have had somewhat of an inconsistent season so far this year, but have proven they can be dangerous against any team in this country. They sit middle of the pack in 10th place in the USL Championship Eastern Conference, but have taken down two MLS sides in the Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati in the Open Cup.

Their most dangerous attacking threat is right winger Russell Cicerone, whose four goals is tied for the team lead. The former Portland Timbers II and FC Cincinnati winger is tricky with the ball at his feet, and is in good form with a goal and an assist to rally from behind to draw against Loudoun United over the weekend. Meanwhile they are especially dangerous on set pieces, with more than a quarter of their goals in league play coming from dead ball situations so far this year. That’s where center back and captain Sam Fink is especially dangerous, who despite being the anchor of the back line is also tied for the team lead in goals this season. It was Fink’s header off a corner kick in second half stoppage time that knocked out the Chicago Fire two rounds ago –– it will be key for Atlanta United to limit their opportunities from set plays and to maintain their defensive focus when those chances arise.

What Saint Louis may lack in star power they make up for with a workmanlike ethos that comes from the top in head coach Anthony Pulis, son of former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis. They pride themselves on a hard-nose defense that makes their opponent earn every chance. Look out for British central midfielder Lewis Hilton dictating the play in the middle of the park, looking to feed wingers down the flank to send in crosses to their physical center forwards. If Atlanta United can match the fight of their lower-league opponents, it will go a long way toward securing their spot in the next round.

It’s another round of knockout soccer, and with two teams who have never faced each other going toe to toe for their tournament lives, this is one you won’t want to miss. Make sure you’re cheering on the Five Stripes in their quest for silverware at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday; tickets are available here, or click here for all the ways to tune in.

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