2019 US Open Cup Semifinals Preview: Atlanta United, Orlando City both seek first title game appearance tonight

Posted by | August 5, 2019
Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design

Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design

The first of two games of the Semifinals of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup kick off on Tuesday night with Orlando City SC hosting Atlanta United FC. On Wednesday, Minnesota United FC will host the Portland Timbers (8 p.m. ET) to round out a semifinal round featuring four teams that have never won the US Open Cup. This marks just the 10th time in the 106-year history of the tournament where the entire final four has never reached the Final.

The winners will advance to the championship game which will take place on Aug. 27. If Atlanta advances, they will host the winner of Minnesota and Portland. Minnesota United will only host the title game if they advance and Orlando City defeats Atlanta. Orlando City can only host the Final if they advance and Portland defeats Minnesota.

Both Semifinals will be broadcast live on ESPN+.

Since 2003, fans who wanted to follow the opening round of the second-oldest, continually-operating soccer tournament in the world, would have to rely on updates from this site, or, in later years, the occasional live audio or video stream. Now, fans who are unable to attend a match in person, can watch every game from the comfort of their home, or through their favorite mobile device.

Below is a preview of the Atlanta / Orlando game (with links to live video and other US Open Cup coverage):

#USOC2019 ESSENTIALS
2019 US Open Cup Schedule/Results (with links to every match report)
2019 US Open Cup statistical leaders (Goals, Assists, GKs)
2019 US Open Cup bracket (TheCup.us)

USSF announces hosts for 2019 US Open Cup Semifinals, hosting priority for 2019 Final

2019 US Open Cup Round 1: Game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Round 2: Game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Round 3: Game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Round 4: Game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Round of 16: Game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Quarterfinals: Game-by-game review

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2019 US Open Cup Qualifying Round 2 game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Qualifying Round 3 game-by-game review
2019 US Open Cup Qualifying Final Round game-by-game review
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Atlanta United FC (MLS) at Orlando City SC (MLS)
Exploria Stadium – Orlando, FL
Kickoff: August 6 – 7:30 p.m. ET
BROADCAST: ESPN+

 

Players from Atlanta United celebrate a goal against Saint Louis FC in the Quarterfinals of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Karl L. Moore | Atlanta United

Players from Atlanta United celebrate a goal against Saint Louis FC in the Quarterfinals of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Karl L. Moore | Atlanta United

Orlando City SC has never managed to beat rival Atlanta United in seven previous matches. With a chance to play for its first trophy on the line, its eighth matchup against the club from Georgia may have the most meaning to date.

Orlando and Atlanta square off in the first of two U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Tuesday evening at 7:30 at Exploria Stadium. The winner advances to its first-ever Open Cup Final, where it will face the winner of Wednesday’s Portland Timbers/Minnesota United contest on either August 27 or 28.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Orlando City’s road to the Semifinals began with a 3-1 win at USL Championship side Memphis 901 behind second-half goals by Sacha Kljestan and Robin Jansson to break a 1-1 deadlock. That was followed by a 2-1 home win against the New England Revolution on June 19 on a pair of extra time goals by Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele, before drawing NYCFC 1-1 on July 10 and advancing behind a stirring 5-4 penalty shootout.

Atlanta United was paired up with the Charleston Battery for the third straight year in the Fourth Round, but after weather forced the match from South Carolina to Georgia, it ended up winning a closed-door game 3-1 thanks to two extra-time goals by Brandon Vazquez. Five days later, Vazquez registered another brace as Atlanta took down the Columbus Crew 3-2 on June 18. It punched its ticket to the semifinal on July 10 as Pity Martinez’s 52nd-minute goal stood as the game winner in a 2-0 victory over second-division Saint Louis FC.

RECENT FORM

Support TheCup.us and its coverage of the US Open Cup by purchasing a "We Want The Cup" shirt in your team's colors. Visit THECUP.US SHOP

Support TheCup.us and its coverage of the US Open Cup by purchasing a “We Want The Cup” shirt in your team’s colors. Visit THECUP.US SHOP

While things have been solid at home for Atlanta United, its play away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium has caused fans the most concern. It has dropped six of its last seven on the road across all competitions, allowing 14 goals in its last four away games. On Saturday, Atlanta made MLS history by breaking their own regular season attendance record (72,548) with a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy. With the win, United sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, and in third place in the overall league standings. Safe to say that if Atlanta gets past Orlando and hosts the US Open Cup Final, the tournament’s all-time attendance record of 41,012 (that Atlanta set last year) would likely be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Orlando City is 5-6-1 at Exploria Stadium but have won three of its last four at the venue in all competitions. After last Saturday’s 2-0 home win over FC Dallas, the Lions snapped a three-game winless streak (0-2-1). City now find themselves in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, four points shy of the last playoff spot.

PAST MEETINGS

This is the second time Atlanta and Orlando will meet this season, with Atlanta winning the first meeting 1-0 on May 12 through Pity Martinez’s first MLS goal. The Five Stripes lead the all-time series 5-0-2 and have won the last four meetings by a combined score of 9-1.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Players from Orlando City SC celebrate after a 5-4 PK win over NYCFC in the 2019 US Open Cup Quarterfinals. Photo: Orlando City SC

Players from Orlando City SC celebrate after a 5-4 PK win over NYCFC in the 2019 US Open Cup Quarterfinals. Photo: Orlando City SC

Brandon Vazquez, Atlanta’s all-time leader in US Open Cup goals (6), has a team-leading four goals in this year’s competition, which ranks second in the Golden Boot race. However, Vazquez has been ruled out of Tuesday’s match. Meanwhile, Orlando City has seen its scoring spread out a bit more in this year’s tournament, with Sacha Kljestan’s two goals in the win against Memphis leading the team. Four other players – Tesho Akindele, Robin Jansson, Benji Michel and Chris Mueller – have found the net.

Atlanta can be encouraged by the fact that several key members of its attack are slowly starting to return to health. Ezequiel Barco, who sustained an injury to his knee in the match against the Crew, played 31 minutes off the bench at LAFC on July 26 and played just over an hour in his return to Frank de Boer’s starting XI in a 3-0 win against the LA Galaxy on Saturday. Tito Villalba, who has not played since May 19, cracked the matchday 18 on Saturday and could be up for some minutes on Tuesday. The biggest name for Atlanta, though, will be Josef Martinez, who was with Venezuela at the Copa America during the first two Open Cup matches but scored a late penalty against Saint Louis FC in the Quarterfinals. His last trip to Orlando? Aug. 25, 2018, when he broke the MLS single-season scoring record with his 28th goal. Martinez, however, there are indications that the reigning MLS MVP may not be traveling with the team to Orlando.  

On the other side of the field, Orlando City have a relatively clean bill of health and could have both Cristian Higuita and Will Johnson available to them on Tuesday. Nani and Tesho Akindele, who have scored eight goals each in MLS play, have a goal and assist between them during the Open Cup. A big question will be who Orlando sends out as goalkeeper on Tuesday. Adam Grinwis, the reigning TheCup.us Player of the Round winner for his performance in the Lions’ penalty shootout win over NYCFC in the Quarterfinals, has started all three US Open Cup matches so far, but has yet to make an appearance in league play. He may get the call over regular starter Brian Rowe.

Support TheCup.us and its coverage of the US Open Cup by purchasing a "We Want The Cup" shirt in your team's colors. Visit THECUP.US SHOP

Support TheCup.us and its coverage of the US Open Cup by purchasing a “We Want The Cup” shirt in your team’s colors. Visit THECUP.US SHOP

 

 

US OPEN CUP HISTORY

 

Atlanta United FC (MLS)
3rd US Open Cup appearance
Overall: 5-2-0
Away: 1-1-0
vs. MLS: 1-1-0
Best finish: Fifth Round (2017, 2018)

Orlando City SC (MLS)
11th US Open Cup appearance (5th as MLS team)
Overall: 17-10-3 (3-0 PK) | 5-4-3 (3-0 PK) as MLS team
Home: 11-3-1 (1-0 PK) | 2-2-1 (1-0 PK) as MLS team
vs. MLS: 4-8-2 (2-0 PK) | 2-2-2 (2-0 PK) as MLS team
Best finish: Quarterfinals (2013*, 2015, 2018)
* as USL PRO team (Div. 3 pro)

Both teams are in uncharted territory this year. Atlanta had never advanced past the Fifth Round of the competition in two previous tries, while Orlando City’s best showings were three trips to the Quarterfinals which ended in losses to the Philadelphia Union in 2018, the Chicago Fire in 2015, and again against the Fire in 2013 when they were a member of the USL Pro (Div. 3).

Atlanta United, who had their US Open Cup runs end in the Round of 16 in each of their first two seasons, have broken through to the Semifinals. The state of Georgia has never had a team lift the US Open Cup trophy in the 106-year history of the tournament. In fact, United are the first Georgia club to reach the final four in 38 years. Only two teams from the Peach State have reached the Semis: Atlanta Wolves were the first in 1980, followed by Datagraphic in 1981.

While this is the first trip to the final four for Orlando City, the club has been very competitive in the tournament dating back to their days in the USL. In the team’s 11 trips to the Open Cup, beginning in 2009 when they were the Austin Aztex in the USL First Division, they have only had one cup run end in a one-and-done situation (In 2017, they were upset by the NASL’s Miami FC). In their first six years as a USL team, they amassed a very respectable 12-6-0 record with two MLS scalps to their credit (both in 2013 vs. Colorado Rapids and defending champion Sporting Kansas City)

Orlando’s home state of Florida has not had a wealth of Open Cup success. Florida didn’t see a team reach the Semifinals until the Clearwater Chargers of the Florida Suncoast Soccer League reached the final four in 1979. Since then, the Kickers from St. Petersburg, Fla. (under a few different names) reached the Semifinals but failed to reach the Final in 1984, 1993 and famously in 1994. In 1994, the team forfeited their Semifinal match because several members of the team had purchased World Cup tickets months in advance. The Kickers’ one breakthrough came in 1989 when they eliminated Chicago’s AAC Eagles in penalty kicks before denying the New York Greek American Atlas a record-tying fifth championship with a 2-1 extra time win in Saint Louis. That 1989 team remains the only team from the Sunshine State to lift the trophy. The last Florida team to reach the Semifinals was the now-defunct Miami Fusion of MLS, who lost to the Chicago Fire in the 2000 championship game.

Josh Hakala also contributed to this report

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