Brandon Vazquez of Atlanta United celebrates against the Charleston Battery in the Fourth Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Atlanta United
Coming off an over two-month spell off the soccer field due to an MCL injury, Atlanta United forward Brandon Vazquez hoped to dispel a frustrating season and make the most of a rare opportunity during the club’s 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Fourth Round matchup against the Charleston Battery of the USL Championship.
He made the most of that chance on Thursday evening.
Vazquez broke a 1-1 deadlock in the 110th minute, and added a second goal in stoppage time of the second extra time session, to send Atlanta United to a 3-1 win over the Charleston Battery at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga.
“It definitely helped my confidence,” said Vazquez, who came on in the 74th minute for his second appearance between Atlanta’s first and second team in a week after none since late March. “I’ve been out for a couple months now so this was definitely good for me, and my mentality coming on is right where I want it to be.”
It was a bit of delayed gratification for Atlanta, who were originally set to play the Battery on the road at MUSC Health Stadium on Tuesday. After heavy rains over the area created unplayable conditions on the field, the two teams were forced to reschedule the match for Thursday evening just north of Atlanta – behind closed doors.
With Atlanta United opening the match in sloppy fashion, the upset-minded Battery, looking for its first win against the defending MLS champions in three Open Cup tries, eventually took advantage.
In the 20th minute, AJ Paterson jumped on a heavy from Franco Escobar and fed it to Ian Svantesson, who one-touched it past a diving Alec Kann to give the Battery a 1-0 lead. Charleston frazzled its opponent by putting ten men behind the ball any time it defended, clearly having done due diligence knowing that Atlanta has struggled throughout its brief history when facing a bunkering side.
“We started 20 minutes too late,” Atlanta coach Frank de Boer said of his team’s performance against Charleston. “We thought we could just play around and do silly things and they took their opportunity and scored once. Then you have to deal with 11 men behind the ball. It’s a good, organized team and they showed it today.”
In the second half, Atlanta gradually looked to grow into the match and take advantage of a gradually tiring Charleston defense. It finally broke through in the 79th minute, as a corner kick from Pity Martinez made its way into the box, deflected off the head of Miles Robinson and was poked in by Romario Williams to level the match. For Williams, a player who spent two different loan spells with the Battery, it was his third career US Open Cup goal. All three of those goals came in games that eliminated the Charleston Battery. In 2014, he scored for the Orlando City Under-23s, who upset the Battery in what would be the longest penalty kick shootout of the Modern Era (they won 12-11), and last year, also at Kennesaw State University, he scored for Atlanta United in their 3-0 win over Charleston.
Atlanta may have had a couple of cracks to win it late in regular time, but this one went to an extra 30 minutes – with fatigue starting to set in even more. But in the 110th minute, second half sub Justin Meram connected with Brandon Vazquez in the box, with the youngster drawing the keeper out of the net and touching it home to give Atlanta the late lead.
The Battery, though, looked as if it had tied it twice late in the second half of extra time. A Kann deflection in the box was knocked home, but called offside by the assistant referee. Moments later, Atlanta’s defense broke down and allowed Arthur Bosua a one-on-one opportunity, but his attempt to chip Kann brushed off the crossbar and ended up in the hands of the goalkeeper.
Atlanta would end any notions of a Charleston equalizer for good in stoppage time of the second extra time period. Martinez’s pass found Meram making a goalward run on the left side of the field, and the veteran played a perfect ball to a streaking Vazquez inside the box to set up the game’s third goal and give Atlanta a win over the Battery for the third year in a row.
“I said to the players after the game that it’s a pity we started 20 minutes too late. After that we came into the game with our chances,” de Boer said. “Maybe we were a little reluctant to score a goal, but then we showed character. It was a hard game, and compliments to the Charleston Battery – they pushed us to the limit.”
Atlanta United travels to Columbus on Tuesday, June 18, to take on the Crew at 7:30 p.m. in the Round of 16 of the US Open Cup. Atlanta is looking for its first-ever Round of 16 win, while Columbus defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1-0 for its first Fourth Round win since 2016.