Atlanta United falls to Miami in Open Cup

Atlanta United played Miami FC in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. Orovio Photography.
Atlanta United played Miami FC in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. Orovio Photography.

A former Silverback had an assist and scored the winning goal as Miami FC defeated Atlanta United 3-2 on Wednesday in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Riccardo Silva Stadium.

Kwadwo Poku came out of a group of players to run onto a pass from Vincenzo Rennella more than 40 yards from goal, dribbled into the penalty box and and hit a flubbed shot into the corner in the final minute of extra time in the second half.

Atlanta United’s goals were scored by 18-year-old Brandon Vazquez and 23-year-old Julian Gressel, with 17-year-old Andrew Carleton making his first start and 18-year-old Lagos Kunga making his debut.

It was going to be a tough game. Miami FC is loaded with players who have MLS experience, including Poku. The team fielded most of the lineup that has helped it run away from the other teams in the NASL Spring race. Miami FC has 30 points, seven more than second-place San Francisco, through 13 games. It was unbeaten in its previous 13 with a plus-18 goal differential.

Plus, it had already knocked off one MLS team, Orlando City, 3-1, in the tournament and this time was playing at home at Riccardo Silva Stadium, where it had lost just once this season.

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino went with a lineup featuring a balance of experienced and inexperienced. But it didn’t include a lot of goals, just six this season among the 11 starters.

Among those in the 11 was Carleton. The team’s first Homegrown Player made his first start of the season. The 17-year-old, a native of Powder Springs, had previously played a few minutes at the end of the 4-1 win over Houston.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute on a header by Vazquez off a pass from Kevin Kratz. It came on a free kick and was the team's first set-piece goal this season. It was Vazquez's third goal in all competitions.

Miami needed two minutes to tie the game. Chris McCann gave away the ball with a bad pass. Poku picked it up and passed it to Stefano Pinho, who only had goalkeeper Alec Kann to beat.

Miami took a 2-1 lead in the 52nd minute on a header by Rhett Bernstein off a free that was result of a Carlos Carmona two-footed tackle. The kick was taken by Hunter Freeman. He curled it in from the left, where Bernstein ran onto it and hit a glancing header.

Martino gambled by inserting Lagos Kunga, signed to a four-day contract earlier in the day. Kunga, an 18-year-old Atlanta native, will sign a Homegrown Player contract in January. It was also announced earlier on Wednesday that he will play for the Charleston Battery the rest of the season. Martino also brought on Mikey Ambrose, taking off Anton Walkes and Mark Bloom, two defenders.

The move changed the personnel within Atlanta United’s formation. Julian Gressel dropped back into the midfield with Kevin Kratz, and Carmona playing beside Leandro Gonzalez Pirez on the back line. Kunga, Vazquez and Carleton floated around as forwards.

The gamble on youth worked when Carleton was tripped by Poku in the penalty box in the 74th minute, resulting in a penalty kick. Gressel drilled the shot to tie the game at 2. It was Gressel's fourth goal in all competitions.

Miami had a chance to take a lead in the 89th minute on a free kick from the same spot as it scored its first goal. But the shot sailed high and Atlanta United escaped.