The kids may be alright for Atlanta United.
Goals from 17-year-old Andrew Carleton -- his first with the first team -- 19-year-old Ezequiel Barco and 23-year-old Romario Williams lifted Atlanta past Charleston 3-0 on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup in Kennesaw. The win came in front of 9,742, the most to attend a sporting event in Fifth Third Bank Stadium history.
“I think we played well, I think we controlled the majority of the match,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said.
Atlanta United will learn who it plays in the fifth round of the tournament at 11 a.m. Thursday when the draw is held. The fifth round will be played on June 20.
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Martino followed through on playing the younger or inexperienced players on Wednesday with striker Williams, left midfielder Carleton, right midfielder Brandon Vazquez (19 years old), left fullback Sal Zizzo, centerback Miles Robinson (20), defensive midfielder Kevin Kratz and goalkeeper Alec Kann – typically reserves – in the starting 11.
But Martino also included a few surprises, notably Barco as the attacking midfielder, Julian Gressel (23 years old) as a defensive midfielder paired with Kratz, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez paired with Robinson. Barco, Gressel and Gonzalez Pirez are typically starters.
Martino said they wanted to give Robinson, who has two starts this season, minutes and because Chris McCann is injured, he felt Gonzalez Pirez would be the experienced defender to help Robinson. Gressel started because it came down either him or Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe has played more minutes and games this season, so Gressel was tabbed. Hector Villalba was unavailable to start because of his hyperextended knee. So, Martino selected Barco, who missed the season’s first give games.
Martino said he doesn’t think the selection on Wednesday of Gonzalez Pirez, Gressel or Barco will affect their availability for Saturday’s game against NYCFC. Martino said he liked the production of the experienced players alongside the less experienced players.
Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute on a rocket from Carleton from the middle of the pitch. His shot from 22 yards went off goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper’s hands. Gressel notched the assist.
Carleton, a native of nearby Powder Springs, said one of the assistant coaches told him to not be afraid to shoot. He said it was the first thing he thought of before he took a touch to set up the shot.
“Awesome feeling scoring my first goal with the first team,” he said. “Anytime you get a shot it’s time to make a statement and show you deserve to be there. I felt like I played a pretty decent game.”
Charleston almost tied the game on a chip from Ian Svantesson in the 34th minute. A poor clearance from Robinson set up Svantesson 18 yards away. His shot dropped over Kann’s crossbar.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 on a penalty kick by Barco in the 47th minute. Williams drew the penalty when he was tripped by Skylar Thomas. Barco hit his shot hard and into the upper left corner. Cooper got a hand on it, but the shot was hit so hard he couldn’t stop it. It was Barco’s fourth goal this season.
Williams pushed Atlanta United’s lead to 3-0 in the 65th minute with a left-footed shot from 18 yards into the lower right corner. Barco was given the assist. It was Williams’ second goal this season for Atlanta United. It was scored from an area that it seems a lot of Williams’ goals have come from the past few seasons. He said it’s a result of a lot of hard work in training.
Williams didn’t celebrate his goal because he played with the Battery for the past two seasons.
“Hold that club and those guys close to my heart,” he said.
It was a much easier game than last year’s between the two teams, which was also played in the fourth round. After falling behind 2-0, Atlanta United rallied to win 3-2.
“I think this team has improved a lot from last season,” Martino said. “Last year, we had to have Miguel (Almiron) and Josef (Martinez) play a lot of minutes in that game to win that game. Tonight, it was important without those guys and with players like Romario, Brandon and Andrew -- the young guys -- (Chris) Goslin and (Andrew) Wheeler(-Omiunu), getting the young guys a lot of minutes.”
Atlanta United will now turn its attention back to two pending Eastern Conference showdowns at NYCFC on Saturday and at Columbus on June 13. Atlanta United leads MLS with 29 points. NYCFC is second in the Eastern Conference with 27. Columbus is third with 26.
Martino began subbing out some of the key players with Wheeler-Omiunu on for Gressel in the 71st minute. Goslin (17 years old) came on for Barco in the 86th minute. It was Goslin’s first appearance with the first team.