Photo: Carmen Mandato
Photo: Carmen Mandato

Atlanta United’s reserves key in U.S. Open Cup win

Key contribution from reserve players propelled Atlanta United past Charleston 3-1 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Thursday at Kennesaw State.

Two goals from Brandon Vazquez in his first minutes this season, two assists from Justin Meram in his fifth appearance, and Romario Williams’ first goal in his first start this season were enough to push the Five Stripes into the fifth round, which will be at Columbus on Tuesday.

“Good that they played these kind of games,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said.

They weren’t the only reserves to contribute. Making his first start this season, midfielder Andrew Carleton was lively in his 74 minutes and centerback Flo Pogba, making his second start, paired well with Miles Robinson stopping Charleston’s titan-like striker tandem of Ian Sventessen, who is 6-6, and then Arthur Bosua, who at 200 pounds looked more like a rugby player than soccer player.

The players were given opportunities partially because the U.S. Open Cup rules limit rosters to just five International players. That rule, combined with the glut of eight games in 28 days played by Atlanta United before the International break started on June 2, meant chances for fresh faces on Thursday.

Williams scored the tying goal in the 79th minute with a toe-poked shot from just a few feet away from goal. Charleston played three centerbacks, which meant Williams faced a forest of flesh no matter which channel he tried to run into. Williams finished with six shots, three on goal. He appeared to suffer a groin injury near the end of the game. Speaking after the game, de Boer didn’t yet have an update on Williams’ status. De Boer was pleased with Williams’ effort.

“He had his chances and made one goal,” he said.

Meram came on in the 59th minute during the push for the tying goal. Acquired in a trade with Columbus earlier this season, Meram has found minutes hard to come by at Atlanta United. His 61 minutes on Thursday were the second-most he has played in a game with the team this season.

But Meram shook off the rust to create four chances. The most notable were on Vazquez’s goals. On the first, Meram, standing at the top of the box, saw Vazquez making a diagonal run from the right toward the mouth of the goal. Meram played a perfect pass for Vazquez to touch and shoot.

On the second, Meram was played into space down the left by Pity Martinez, who had an excellent second half. Meram saw Vazquez across the field making a run to the back post. Meram one-timed his pass to Vazquez to one-time his shot into the lower right corner.

“How can you change the game?” Meram said of his role as a sub. “How can you come in and contribute and help the team? Fortunately, I think all of the subs did that tonight.”

Vazquez was sidelined for two months with an MCL injury sustained after receiving a hard tackle in training. His first minutes on Thursday proved productive. He finished with four shots, three on goal and once chance created in 46 minutes.

“It definitely helped my confidence,” Vazquez said. “Been out for a couple of months now. Definitely good for me and my mentality coming on is right where I want it to be.”

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