Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez had been saddled with criticism from his fans – and his coach – after a string of flat results. On Wednesday evening, the MLS club’s big-ticket offseason signing delivered.
Martinez’s goal in the 52nd minute on an assist from new signing Emerson Hyndman, and a stoppage-time penalty from Josef Martinez, led Atlanta to a 2-0 win over USL Championship team Saint Louis FC at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga.
Just over an hour after the final whistle, Orlando City and New York City FC played to a 1-1 draw, but Orlando defeated NYCFC 5-4 in penalties to set up a semifinal showdown with Atlanta in early August.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 11, 2019
With the win, Atlanta United becomes the first Georgia-based club to reach the US Open Cup Semifinals since Datagraphics advanced to the final four in 1981.
“I think I can be very satisfied with the performance tonight,” said Atlanta coach Frank de Boer. “Maybe the last 15 minutes of the first half we were a little bit sloppy and they made one or two chances out of it, but for the rest we played really concentrated.”
Atlanta United dominated possession in the early going, choosing a patient approach in the attack while depending on the wing play of Justin Meram to create opportunities for Pity Martinez and the forward corps. Despite there being no goals to speak of throughout the first half hour, one appeared to be inevitable for the home side, but Saint Louis began to build confidence as the match went on and nearly scored off a corner routine in the 37th minute.
The breakthrough for Atlanta finally came in the 52nd minute. Emerson Hyndman dispossessed his man in the box and made clever work of it to lay it off to Pity Martinez – leaving the Argentinian with a pretty finish to make it 1-0.
“I kind of saw (the ball carrier) facing his own goal and just tried to jump it,” Hyndman said. “Thankfully it turned the right way for me and Pity made a great finish.”
Atlanta had several opportunities down the stretch to put the match away, but the final ball never found its target. That allowed a chance for Saint Louis to level the match with a succession of corners that they were never able to capitalize on. But late in stoppage time, a penalty awarded to Atlanta saw Josef Martinez confidently step up and convert to double the margin and see his team through to the semifinals.
“You could see the determination to avoid the equalizer in the last minute (with) three corner kicks, and how everybody was determined to not concede the goal,” de Boer said. “Then (we) got our reward in the end with the penalty.”
For Pity Martinez, tonight served as a bit of redemption. He was active on both sides of the field, and while it wasn’t a perfect showing, it provided some optimism for both his fans and his coach.
“I think he played a really good game,” de Boer said. “He knows he wants to see his level go up, and today he made a very good step. Hopefully he continue in that, and it’s great that he scored a goal of importance for the team.”
Despite the loss, Saint Louis FC won’t go home empty-handed. They have won the $25,000 Division 2 prize money as the second division team that has advanced the furthest. They earned the prize money in a tiebreaker with New Mexico United, who were also eliminated tonight. Saint Louis wins the tiebreaker of the number of wins over a team one division higher (MLS). Saint Louis had two, while New Mexico had one. New Mexico eliminated two MLS teams also, but one of them was by penalty kicks, and games that end in penalty kicks are officially listed as a draw.
Atlanta will either travel to or host Orlando in the first semifinal match for both teams. U.S. Soccer will conduct a draw at 2 p.m. Thursday, with the match to be played on either August 6 or 7.