Nearly two years and eight months after it hoisted the U.S. Open Cup in front of more than 35,700 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United opened its long-awaited title defense in convincing fashion.
Behind a trio of first-half goals in the span of a quarter-hour – including a first-half brace from Dom Dwyer – and three more in the second half, Atlanta cruised to a comprehensive 6-0 victory over the NISA’s Chattanooga FC at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga.
Marcelino Moreno added a goal from the penalty spot, and Luiz Araujo and Brooks Lennon each added second-half tallies of their own as well, as Atlanta booked its place in the Open Cup’s Round of 32, 966 days after defeating Minnesota United 2-1 in the 2019 US Open Cup Final.
It was the positive start to the competition the Five Stripes needed. Captain and goalkeeper Brad Guzan suffered a ruptured Achilles during a league match against FC Cincinnati on Saturday while the club was already without Josef Martinez following a knee procedure weeks prior.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 23, 2022
“I told the team that they (showed) good intensity today,” said Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda. “I was very happy with how fast we moved the ball from side to side, and especially on the ground and especially through the midfielders. When we did that, we were really dangerous.”
Atlanta opened the scoring in the 21st minute through Ronald Hernandez, as Andrew Gutman’s cross into the scoring area found the Venezuelan right back. Hernandez snuck it past Chattanooga goalkeeper Kevin Gonzalez for just his second goal for the club to make it a 1-0 lead for the hosts.
The advantage grew to 2-0 just minutes later in the 25th, as Dwyer flicked a well-timed header into the net following a perfect ball from Jake Mulraney. Dwyer made it a double for himself in the 35th, as he lasered a strike from outside the box to increase Atlanta’s lead to 3-0.
“He’s an experienced No. 9 in this league that we know is able and capable of scoring goals,” Pineda said. “It was good to see that performance…I’m very happy for him and his confidence.”
|US Open Cup Career
(Modern Era 1995-present)
Sebastien Le Toux
6 tied with 10
That makes three goals in as many appearances with Atlanta for the former U.S. international, once one of MLS’s most lethal strikers but now looking to rediscover his scoring touch after a spell of disappointing form over the past several years.
“Honestly, I’m in a good place,” Dwyer said of joining the club after two years at Toronto FC and several seasons at Atlanta rival Orlando City SC prior to that. “Atlanta’s believed in me as a club, and signed me to a multiple-year contract, so for me, it’s trying to perform each week, whether I’m asked to start or come off the bench, or whatever it is”
For Dwyer, it was his 10th and 11th career US Open Cup goals, which is fourth most in the Modern Era (1995-present). Dwyer scored three for Orlando City in 2013 (as a member of USL Pro), before scoring six between the 2015 and the Open Cup winning 2017 Sporting Kansas City teams.
Atlanta United weren’t done, though. Mulraney was taken down in the box near the end line, leading referee Matthew Thompson to point to the spot. Moreno stepped up and converted the resulting penalty to make it 4-0 less than 10 minutes into the second half. Araujo added Atlanta’s fifth goal with a nifty finish in the 67th, while Brooks Lennon capped the scoring in the 84th minute as Atlanta improved to 5-0-0 all-time in Open Cup play at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
It was in stark contrast to Saturday’s league match against Cincinnati, a 0-0 stalemate that followed a 1-0 loss to expansion side Charlotte FC. With a club Open Cup record six-goal effort against Chattanooga, though, Pineda expressed hope that the performance would kickstart a flagging attack, starting with Sunday afternoon’s league contest at Inter Miami CF.
“ were a bit more composed in the final third, even though, still, there were some chances that we let go because the last touch, the last pass wasn’t quite there,” Pineda said. “I felt that today they gained confidence…Hopefully is that night that will help us in the future to score more goals.”