There was no mud, no sand, no crowd and, for Atlanta United, it was almost no fun.
That was until it rallied to defeat Charleston 3-1 on a goal by Romario Williams in the second half and two from Brandon Vazquez in the second period of extra time in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Thursday at Kennesaw State.
Atlanta United will play Columbus in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium. It is the third consecutive year that Atlanta United defeated Charleston in the fourth round.
Atlanta United needed a team-record 34 shots to score its goals as it improved to 4-0 at Kennesaw State. It marked the first time this season that Atlanta United has won when allowing a goal.
“It was a pity that we started 20 minutes too late,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer. “After that we came into the game. Then we showed character. But you have to start from the beginning.”
Thursday’s game was supposed to be played Tuesday in Charleston. But days of rain turned the field at MUSC Health Stadium into a muddy, sand-filled mess that was deemed unplayable just a few minutes before kickoff. ADe Boer described it as “dangerous” on Thursday. After some 20 hours of speculation, the United States Soccer Federation announced the game would instead be played in Kennesaw.
Thursday was a sunny, warm day with an odd atmosphere. Because of the short notice of the switch, the stadium was closed to the public. Security and stadium operations people couldn’t be lined up in time to accommodate ticket sales.
But some game day aspects remained. The players marched onto the field and were introduced by a fill-in public address announcer who tried to pump up the few spectators allowed. One Charleston player turned to clap to the crowd. He looked around at the rows of empty yellow seats and then shrugged his shoulders.
Almost everything said on the field could be heard, with Charleston goalkeeper Phil Breno’s constant instructions and mapping of Atlanta United’s players dominating the sound.
“Everything doesn’t help,” de Boer said of the lack of atmosphere. “It’s always in the favor of the opponent, who is the less favored. They want to play the game of the season because there’s a lot of exposure. The only thing we can do is lose. If you win it’s normal. If you lose it’s a disaster. Finally, we won. We have to forget it as soon as possible and off to Columbus.”
Even in a mostly quiet atmosphere, it became eerie early when Charleston took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Ian Svantesson in the 20th minute. Right fullback Franco Escobar gave away the ball near the top right corner of the penalty box. A.J. Paterson jumped on the mistake and passed to Svantesson, whose one-time left-footed shot went off the opposite post and in.
“We just gave away that goal,” de Boer said.
The goal allowed the Battery to sit even deeper in its own half in an attempt to make Atlanta United have to go through as many defenders as possible.
Atlanta United couldn’t find a solution for a long time.
It took a few shots. Williams had two saved within a few minutes. A free kick by Pity Martinez was pushed aside. But Charleston was resolute and Atlanta United unoriginal through 78 minutes.
Atlanta United finally broke through when Williams touched in a Miles Robinson header at the backpost in the 79th minute. Robinson and Martinez were given assists. It was Williams’ third goal as an Atlanta United player.
Atlanta United wasted a few good chances in extra time. The best was missed by Justin Meram, who hit a header from five yards away into the ground and over the goal in the 106th minute. The cross was supplied by Martinez.
Atlanta United got its winner on a goal by Vazquez, who took a pass from Meram at the top of the box, crossed Breno, and turned the ball into an open net. Meram was given the assist.
“I was trying to make up for that miss,” Meram said of the header.
Charleston had a tying goal scored in the 117th minute wiped away by an offside call. The Battery had another shot hit the crossbar in the 119th minute.
Meram and Vazquez connected again in the 121st minute when Martinez played Meram into space down the left. Meram said he saw Vazquez making the run to the back post. He one-timed a cross for Vazquez to one-time. Vazquez said Meram gave him the second goal.
“They pushed us to the limit,” de Boer said. “We did some extra training today. That’s maybe good for the guys but I prefer that we do it normally in regular time to finish and win these games.”
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