Atlanta United tops Orlando, will play for U.S. Open Cup title

Atlanta United will play for its second major trophy, the U.S. Open Cup.

Goals from Eric Remedi and Emerson Hyndman were enough to take the Five Stripes past Orlando 2-0 on Tuesday at Exploria Stadium in the semifinals of the tournament.

“They fought like lions,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “They defended like lions and also tried to attack. We had opportunities, and finally we had the relieving goal to score the 2-0, and then it was over. I think it was a good performance.

Atlanta United, which won the MLS Cup last year, will host the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal between Portland and Minnesota for the championship on Aug. 27 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Winning the U.S. Open Cup would come with a berth into next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

Atlanta United's Tuesday got off to a poor start, to say the least, when it was confirmed that Josef Martinez, who leads the team with 18 goals in league play, sustained an adductor injury during Monday's training that left him unable to play in the semifinal.

Combined with injuries to Brandon Vazquez and Hector Villalba, and the team’s decision to trade Romario Williams to Columbus a few weeks ago, meant it had no natural strikers available for Tuesday.

De Boer kept the 3-5-2 formation that the team has used in its past four games and loaded it with midfielders. Brad Guzan started as goalkeeper with Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez as the centerbacks. Darlington Nagbe and Remedi were the defensive midfielders. The rest of the midfield included Julian Gressel, Hyndman and Justin Meram, with Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez as the strikers.

“With Josef (Martinez) out, other players have to step up,” de Boer said. “I think it was also a team performance today. For a coach, these are great games to see, hey, there is a chemistry between the players. They were communicating, they were fighting, they were motivating each other. This is what you want to see.”

Atlanta United broke through in the 37th minute on a goal by Remedi. His first, from 18 yards, was palmed away by Orlando’s Adam Grinwis. The ball went to Gressel, whose cross found Remedi a few yards from goal. He one-timed the pass for the second goal of his Atlanta United career.

Remedi said that goal was the result of a 30-yard run he made earlier in the game, when his shot was saved.

“It seemed like they were worried about man-marking Pity and Barco, so that gave the midfielders a whole lot of space to run toward,” he said.

Atlanta United missed a chance to take a 2-0 lead just before halftime when Meram made a great, cutting run down the left. He found Barco, who appeared to be offside but no flag was raised, on the right. Barco’s shot went wide.

Orlando came out hot in the second half and came close to tying the game at one if not for a clearance by Escobar just a few feet from goal.

Orlando came close again in the 53rd minute when Sacha Kljestan’s shot from 7 yards flew over the crossbar. Kljestan was left unmarked at the back post after good work by Orlando moved the ball from side to side and forced Atlanta United’s defense to slide to its right.

Hyndman sealed the victory with a goal in the 78th minute from about 10 yards away. Escobar and Remedi earned the assists.

“All I remember is it was a great ball into me,” Hyndman said. “Obviously I meant to hit it like that. No, they all count. We stamped our authority on that game with that finish. From then on we could defend and keep a clean sheet. It was a good victory overall.”

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