Atlanta United will play at Miami FC on Wednesday in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Atlanta United faces challenges in Miami

Atlanta United will face several challenges when it faces Miami in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in southern Florida.

First, Miami is good. Its roster is filled with former MLS players, including three who also played for the Silverbacks, and the team is coached by Italian legend Alessandro Nesta.

Second, Atlanta United’s form on the road hasn’t been great: just one point taken from a possible 15 in its past five games.

Third, in the U.S. Open Cup, teams are allowed to have a maximum of five international players on its roster. Atlanta United typically fields between six to seven non-domestic players in its starting lineup.

“Miami probably has more players with MLS experience than we do, at least in terms of the team we are going field,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “We are going to play some of our guys with MLS experience, but also a mix of young players. If it comes down to just MLS experience, they might have more than us tomorrow.”

Atlanta United’s roster for its previous game in the Open Cup, a 3-2 win over Charleston, featured two players making their debuts: Miles Robinson and Zach Loyd, as well as others making their first starts in Anton Walkes, Brandon Vazquez and Chris McCann. The starting 11 also included leading scorers Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Martino said the roster for Wednesday’s game has been built around the five international players, with the remaining slots a mix of the experienced and inexperienced.

“Everyone’s prepared, everyone has their mind set on winning and advancing,” said Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who served as captain in the win against Charleston.

Miami FC is already seven points clear of the second-place team in the NASL’s Spring standings. It has won nine of its 13 games and accumulated 30 points.

It likely doesn’t need to field a mix of the experienced and inexperienced. It can field its strongest team with the hope of defeating its second consecutive MLS team in the tournament. Miami defeated Orlando City 3-1 in its previous game thanks to a hat-trick from Stefano Pinho, a Brazilian who was NASL MVP in 2015 while playing for Fort Lauderdale.

Miami’s roster also includes Kwadwo Poku, Tyler Ruthven and Jaime Chavez, who each played for the Silverbacks. Poku went on to play for NYCFC before his contract was sold to Miami in 2016 for $800,000. Ruthven later played for New York Red Bulls.

Other Miami FC players with MLS experience include defender Gabriel Farfan, Jonathan Barrajo, Hunter Freeman and Brad Rusin, and midfielders Michel, Michael Lahoud, Blake Smith and Jonny Steele.

“They have talent, guys who have been around this league and are doing really well in their league,” Larentowicz said.

Miami FC has scored 23 goals, led by Vincenzo Rennella’s eight, and allowed just nine in NASL games.

“We have to make sure the things that we are doing every day in practice are carrying into the game,” Atlanta United midfielder Hector Villalba said. “We have to be fully prepared mentally for the game.”

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