Atlanta United is going to need a bigger trophy cabinet. And soon.
The MLS team won its third major trophy by dispatching Minnesota 2-1 on Tuesday to take the U.S. Open Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of a record crowd of 35,709. An own goal by Chase Gasper and a goal from Pity Martinez proved the difference as Atlanta United played the final 16 minutes with just 10 players after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez received two yellow cards.
“Today we achieved something very beautiful for the club, for the players,” manager Frank de Boer.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Championship Trophy will join the Campeones Cup, won earlier this month, and last year’s MLS Cup as part of Atlanta United’s trophy haul in less than three seasons. The team is competing to defend its MLS Cup. It is in first place in the Eastern Conference and will play at Philadelphia, which is tied with the team with 48 points, on Saturday.
» PLAYER RATINGS: Atlanta United 2, Minnesota 1 for U.S. Open Cup
“We talked about before the game being a winning club, winning trophies, being a big club, that’s what it’s about,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said while holding a bottle of champagne.
De Boer chose the same starting lineup as he used in last week’s 1-0 win at Orlando: Guzan, centerbacks Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Flo Pogba. Wingbacks Julian Gressel and Justin Meram with Eric Remedi and Darlington as the defensive midfielders. The attacking trident was composed of Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez.
Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 11th when Pity Martinez put Gonzalez Pirez into space in the right corner. As Gonzalez Pirez reached the end line, he put in a soft, high cross about 10 yards from goal. The ball was touched by Minnesota’s Gasper as he tried to close down Gonzalez Pirez. As the ball floated in front of the crossbar, goalkeeper Vito Mannone reached up and touched it. The ball fell into the opposite corner. It was ruled an own goal by Gasper.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 in the 16th minute when Meram easily beat his man down the left and put in a low cross that Pity Martinez one-timed past Mannone.
Minnesota cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 in the 47th minute when Robin Lod cleverly let the ball roll past his front foot and then reached behind him with the same foot to flick a shot off the post and into Guzan’s goal. Kevin Molino earned the assist.
Minnesota was given a lifeline when Gonzalez Pirez received two yellow cards in the span of three minutes, forcing him off and giving the Loons a man advantage for the final 16 minutes. The first yellow card was for dissent in the 71st minute. The second was for unsporting behavior when he knocked down a Minnesota player.
“To concede so early in the second half, we were right up against it,” Guzan said. “We gave them a lot of belief, a lot of hope.”
De Boer subbed on Franco Escobar for Pity Martinez in the 76th minute to shore up the three-man back line. De Boer then brought on Jeff Larentowicz for Gressel with five minutes remaining. De Boer switched the formation to a 5-3-1.
“Nerve-wracking for everyone,” de Boer said.
Minnesota failed to take advantage until the final minutes. Its best chance came when Ike Opara’s soft shot was pushed away from the corner by a diving Guzan in the 90th minute. Another came three minutes later when Michael Boxall’s volleyed shot from 6 yards went over the crossbar.
Atlanta United finished the game and was soon on the podium with captain Michael Parkhurst lifting the trophy over his head as his teammates celebrated behind him in what’s becoming old hat for the young club.
“The biggest clubs in the world win trophies,” Gressel said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for a year. We look to continue that because that’s what big clubs do. We consider ourselves a big club.”
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