Atlanta United have a chance to lift their third trophy in just over nine months at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as they host fellow 2017 expansion side Minnesota United for their first appearance in the U.S. Open Cup Final Tuesday. The Five Stripes enter the match in red-hot form, but host a Minnesota side with a chip on their shoulder and hungry for their first piece of silverware –– and with a trophy on the line, it’s one you won’t want to miss.
It all kicks off at 8:00 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN+. If you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in.
Atlanta United are coming off a slugfest in Orlando, fighting through humid conditions and physical defense to come out with a hard-fought road win. Fixtures may be piling up, but with six straight wins in all competitions, they are confident against anyone when they play in front of their home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Leading the line has of course been Josef Martinez, who has given new meaning to the word “unstoppable,” scoring in his last twelve MLS matches to set a new league scoring streak record. With Pity Martínez having his best stretch yet for the club and Ezequiel Barco reaching peak fitness and showing his match-changing dynamism on Friday, this is a hard team to stop going forward. And their form has had the added effect of unleashing Julian Gressel’s telepathic understanding with Martinez and Justin Meram’s dynamic one-on-one dribbling into space on the wings. Combining that with the automatic possession play of Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the park creates a multi-pronged attack that has left opposing defenses chasing shadows.
That free-flowing attack has been complimented by one of the best defensive units in the league that is once again returning to full fitness. Franco Escobar was back in training with the team on Monday while Eric Remedi put in 45 minutes in Orlando as he returns from injury. But their absence has shown the strength in depth for the club with Jeff Larentowicz and Florentin Pogba stepping up brilliantly and showing they are just as prepared when called upon. Meanwhile the ever-present play of Leandro González Pirez and Miles Robinson have been the staple of the Atlanta United back line, combining lockdown one-on-one defense with an ability to push the ball forward in attack. And if you get past them you have to face one of the most in-form goalkeepers in the league in Brad Guzan, coming off two straight man-of-the-match performances for his league-best 13th clean sheet of the season. It’s a team in form from front to back –– if they can push through the fatigue and play to their potential, they have to be considered the favorites against anyone at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Minnesota United’s bumpy inaugural season is a distant memory, with the Loons recently as high as second place in the Western Conference thanks to a rebuilt defense and a few key offensive additions. A recent dip in form has them in fifth place in a tight Western conference, but with key players returning to the fold, they have their sights set on their first postseason appearance.
One of those key players expected to return on Tuesday is MLS veteran Ozzie Alonso, the longtime Seattle defensive midfielder that has been a vital part of their defensive turnaround this year. The Loons have won just one of four matches since he left the lineup –– so in the team’s biggest match in their history to date, he is expected to return. He lines up in front of another MLS veteran and key part of Minnesota’s defensive resurgence in Ike Opara, whose partnership with center back Michael Boxall in front of former Premier League goalkeeper Vito Mannone has formed a fierce defensive core. And keep an eye on the fullbacks looking to push forward, particularly Romain Métanire, a Madagascar international that has been a huge contributor with athletic runs and pinpoint crosses up the right wing of the field.
Up top is a question mark for Minnesota, with striker Ángelo Rodriguez listed as questionable for the match by the Minnesota United coach last week. That means it could be time for MLS SuperDraft picks Mason Toye or Abu Danladi to fill in up top as true strikers, or perhaps Darwin Quintero pushing forward from his usual second striker role. Ethan Finley has been a constant on the right, looking to use his speed to get to the byline and send in dangerous crosses. And a major question for the club is whether it’s time for Thomas Chacon’s first start for the club, with the 19-year-old Uruguayan Designated Player making his first appearance off the bench on Thursday. There are question marks over how the Loons will line up, but they have plenty of quality to be dangerous with whoever they choose. Atlanta United will have to be at the top of their game to lift another trophy on Tuesday.
It’s going to be another electric night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as two teams fight for a piece of coveted silverware. Make sure to buy your tickets here, or if you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.