Columbus prevailed 2-0 under heavy rain, and as they prepare to welcome Atlanta to MAPFRE Stadium for their US Open Cup round of 16 clash (7 pm ET | ESPN+), their starting XI will look vastly different. Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are with the US men's national team, as is goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Center back Jonathan Mensah is with Ghana, while midfielder maestro Federico Higuain has since torn his ACL. That's five players from the victorious starting lineup, which could be six depending on if Harrison Afful is fit to start after recovering from a broken jaw.
Some may see that as a huge hurdle, but head coach Caleb Porter sees it as an opportunity for the rest of the squad.
“It's great to see that next group of guys step up and be leaders and show that they can get the job done,” Porter said. “Also, take some ownership in the season and make a statement to everyone that we do have good depth and that they are capable of getting the win for us when some of the key guys are gone.”
"I agree that Josef is one of the first guys on the team sheet for sure," ATL veteran Jeff Larentowicz said of Martinez's absence. "We have guys that can score; it doesn’t change our style of play. We’re still trying to get whoever is playing center forward or in attacking positions in front of goal, and guys have the ability to score from there. I don’t think it necessarily changes that much. We’re trying to do the same things just with different personnel."
Both teams advanced through the fourth round with victories over USL opponents, though neither was easy. The Crew fought for a tight 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, while Atlanta required extra time to prevail, 3-1, over the Charleston Battery.
"We have to be switched on right away," Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer said. "Columbus was a good example earlier this year that we can show the group. I think we are better in that area. This is a good opponent, but we have the opportunity to show that we are better now than when we played against them earlier this season."