Two goals from Brandon Vazquez led Atlanta United past Columbus 3-2 on Tuesday and, for the first time in franchise history, into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
Vazquez has four goals in the past two Open Cup games to give him six in the tournament in the past three seasons. Miles Robinson scored the second goal, his first with Atlanta United.
“Our focus is on the next game now and the grind continues,” Vazquez said.
Atlanta United will host the winner of the game between Cincinnati and St. Louis in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup on July 10. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kennesaw State. Atlanta United was eliminated in the Round of 16 in its previous two U.S. Open Cups.
“We said before the game that we hadn’t advanced past this round yet and we wanted to make sure we did that this year,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “Take steps further as a club in each competition.”
Of course, if it’s Atlanta United at Columbus, it’s going to rain. And it did. The game was delayed for almost 50 minutes in the second half because of a downpour that started just before halftime. An MLS game played between the teams at MAPFRE Stadium on March 30 was played in a heavier rain. That game wasn’t stopped.
Manager Frank de Boer put out the strongest possible 11, with Ezequiel Barco making his first appearance since May 5. He has spent most of the past month with Argentina at the U20 World Cup in Poland. Also in the starting 11 were Pity Martinez, Justin Meram, who was traded from Columbus to Atlanta United earlier this season, and Vazquez, who scored two goals in the 3-1 win against Charleston in the tournament’s fourth round. The defense was composed of goalkeeper Brad Guzan, fullbacks Franco Escobar and Parkhurst, centerbacks Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi.
Vazquez kept his hot streak, giving Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute after he took the ball off the foot of David Guzman at the top of the penalty box and won his one-on-one with Columbus goalkeeper Jon Kempin.
“Nice to have the lead and the confidence at first,” Vazquez said.
Atlanta United took a 2-0 lead when Robinson headed in a corner in the 15th minute. Robinson was left unmarked at the back post. Robinson started near the penalty spot and make a looping run to the back post, where he headed the ball into the ground and into the goal. Barco was given the assist.
Robinson said the set piece was something the team worked on during the week.
“Coaches knew where their weaknesses would be in the set piece,” he said. “There would be an opening there and there was.”
Atlanta missed two chances to increase its lead. On the first, a left-footed shot from Meram rolled just wide after Barco played him through the defense.
On the second, Vazquez intercepted a poor pass to Kempin. Vazquez tried to curl in a right-footed shot from near the end line. The ball hit the back post and bounced away.
“He was clever to see that someone was trying to pass it back and get in between,” de Boer said.
Columbus cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 in the 40th minute on a goal by David Accam. Atlanta United’s players were upset with Columbus because Darlington Nagbe was down on the field with an injury. Columbus didn’t have to put the ball out so that Nagbe could receive treatment, but teams typically do. The Crew continued to play and Accam’s shot squirted past Guzan.
De Boer said he thought his team backed off too much after the first goal and needed to show more initiative.
“We have to recognize moments,” he said. “Hey, you can’t sit back. You have to track back sometimes. Sometimes an opponent will push you back. I think that’s the most important thing. We lost a little bit of the initiative. We always want the initiative.”
As the rain, which started just before halftime, continued to pour, the game opened up. Pity Martinez tried to find Barco at the back post, only for the pass to be cleared at the last second.
Columbus came down the field and Guzan made a diving save to preserve the 2-1 lead in the 59th minute.
Vazquez scored his second goal in the 65th minute. It was another simple goal. Vazquez chased a ball deep in Columbus half. He easily rounded Alex Crognale and then put a low shot into the opposite corner.
“I think it’s a great achievement, great for Brandon,” de Boer said. “It’s good when you know that when Josef isn’t here you can replace him quite well.”
Columbus cut Atlanta United’s lead to 3-2 when a cross by Waylon Francis went off Guzan’s left elbow, rolled underneath his arm and into the goal in the 71st minute.
The game was suspended in the 75th minute at 8:38 p.m. The game re-started at 9:27 p.m.
Columbus pushed for the tying goal and Guzan made a save in the 87th minute to preserve the lead.
Barco missed a chance in the 89th minute to secure the win when he put a shot over the crossbar after a long run.
“We only go for one thing and that’s to win the Cup,” de Boer said.
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