MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United’s brand, established both on the field and in the front office, is one of brash confidence, bold statements and the highest of ambitions. The 2018 U.S. Open Cup serves as a waypoint along the path to achieving those lofty ambitions, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan says the team will make every effort to win the competition.
The first test that stands in its way is the Charleston Battery (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET), Atlanta’s former affiliate club, in a rematch of this same round of the competition last year.
“Anytime we’re in a tournament, we want to give ourselves a chance to win a trophy,” Guzan told media at training Tuesday. “That starts [Wednesday] night for us. At the same time, we want to continue our push and our progress in the league and make sure we continue to build on the good that we’ve been able to create so far this season.”
The U.S. Open Cup presents a challenge for many MLS teams — not just Atlanta — due to the registration rules that limit the use of international players to a maximum of five in the match day squad. Atlanta United is particularly reliant on its international talent, with Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco having scored 21 of the team’s 30 goals in league play this season.
What’s Martino’s game plan to navigate the competition?
Play the kids. And don’t tell him that means he doesn’t care about the competition.
"If taking [the U.S. Open Cup] seriously implies not playing [Brandon] Vazquez, Romario [Williams], [Andrew] Carleton — if taking it seriously implies that those kids don't play, then we'll continue to not take it seriously,” Martino told the media after Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. "Since these kids are going to play we'll attempt to take it seriously the way we take every competition seriously. But we aren’t going to play with the same players we play week after week.”
Williams, a 23-year-old striker, said the chance for players of his ilk to play midweek is less about an opportunity to impress the manager and more about upholding their roles in the squad to win these types of games. And as someone who played on the Charleston Battery last season on loan, he knows that winning is far from a sure thing.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we have something to prove,” Williams said. “Each and every guy knows his role in this team. We have a deep squad and it’s just another opportunity for guys to show their worth and show why they’re part of this team.
“We’re not going to underestimate these guys because we’ve seen what they can do especially when I was there last year on the other side. They came here and took a two-goal lead and could’ve made it 3-0 except they missed a penalty. Being with Atlanta this year, we know what we’re capable of and we’re not going to underestimate them.”