The 2019 U.S. Open Cup Final takes place on Tuesday night, with both MLS–based finalists looking to secure their first Open Cup title. Toss in some high-flying offensive weapons and the scene at Mercedes-Benz Stadium should be filled with intensity and drama for 90+ minutes.
Defending MLS champs and current Campeones Cup winner Atlanta United is in search of its third trophy in nine months. The club has rolled to four consecutive wins in league play coming into Tuesday’s final, outscoring opponents 8-1 over that span.
Reigning Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez is on a fierce run of form, scoring in 12 consecutive matches, taking his goal total to 22 in MLS. The Venezuelan striker will be the top player to watch in his home stadium, while Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez and Julian Gressel will also look to get in on the action in front of goal.
“As a young player when you begin your career you want to win games, but as you get older and near the end of your career you want to see how much you have won,” Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer said. “I think this is important for the club and for the players too, we are eager to win this trophy.”
“Minnesota is a strong team. They are good on counter attacks and have the ability to get after you. They don’t make many mistakes either so it will be a tough test.”
Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez have been one of the better defensive pairings in MLS, with veteran Michael Parkhurst also available if need be. Florentin Pogba has also played of late in a three-man backline, with Justin Meram and Gressel taking starts in wingback roles.
Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Remedi, and Darlington Nagbe will all be fighting for the start in midfield, while loanee Emerson Hyndman has one goal already in this competition since joining from Bournemouth.
“It means a great deal to be playing for another trophy, we want to be a winning club,” Gressel said. “Looking back on my career I want to be able to say I won titles and for us to be playing for a third title in three years since the club has made the jump to MLS is huge.”
As for Minnesota, the Loons have lost twice in August after a six-match unbeaten run in league play saw them rise up the Western Conference standings. They are also seeking their first U.S. Open Cup title, after coming into MLS in 2017, the same year as Atlanta United.
After a three-match period in June-July during which the Loons totaled 13 goals, they’ve since only scored eight times since, which could be of concern heading down South. Darwin Quintero only scored once in August, but is still a dangerous threat in attack. The Colombian could be partnered with youngster Mason Toye, who is finally back after a league suspension.
MLS Defender of the Year contender Ike Opara will anchor the backline and will have a tough task of limiting the in-form Martinez. Romain Metanire has been one of the MLS’ top newcomers this season after joining from France. His defensive play has been huge for Adrian Heath’s team, which knows it has plenty of players to deal with on the other side of the field.
Ozzie Alonso is expected to return for the Loons on Tuesday from injury and will bring with him an unmatched amount of experience in U.S. Open Cup finals, having won four Open Cup titles with the Seattle Sounders.
Heath will need Alonso and Jan Gregus to be at their best to try and slow down Atlanta’s dangerous playmakers. Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino are the likely pair to start out wide and will try to create opportunities for Quintero to latch onto.
Though the Loons are considerable underdogs on Tuesday, Heath is confident his team can pull off the upset.
“My best memories of Cup finals are of the final that I won, not the two that I lost,” Heath said regarding his 1984 FA Cup final win with Everton. “I don’t want any of these guys to experience that, and they don’t either, every single players on the pitch in our kit wants to win.”