MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer is not planning too much squad rotation for his team’s U.S. Open Cup fourth-round game at the Charleston Battery on Tuesday.
“When you give [reserve] players the opportunity, you don’t give them an opportunity when you change the whole team because they don’t play much together,” de Boer told reporters Monday at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground. “They can show that they [have] energy, but you also want to see quality in movement and everything.
“I think it’s like [three or four] people, OK, that’s the maximum to let people who didn’t play that much to really show themselves in a good, organized, structured team.”
It’s a shift in philosophy from former Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who typically sprinkled a few first-11 players into glorified reserve squads for Open Cup games. In a round-of-16 contest against the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last June, Miguel Almirón, Leandro González-Pírez and Héctor “Tito” Villalba were the only regulars to start. The Five Stripes lost 1-0.
“I’m not going to change that much,” de Boer said, “and I take [the tournament] very seriously because it’s the fastest way to get to a prize.”
Atlanta’s last Major League Soccer game was June 1, a 2-0 win over the Fire. The team does not return to league play until June 26 at Toronto FC. This break in action allows Atlanta to put its sole focus on Charleston, which plays down a level in the USL Championship.
“The Open Cup is all we have right now,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “There’s no MLS games for still a couple weeks, so if things go well against Charleston, we have two Open Cup games before we play any other competition.
“We know that we haven’t progressed past two games in this tournament yet, and we want to. It’s the quickest way to a trophy. It’s a trophy that obviously we haven’t won yet as a club and would like to. We want to keep adding to the trophy case. Guys are taking it just like any other game: very seriously, we watch film, we work on set pieces. We feel prepared for tomorrow.”
Gressel, Barco, LGP, Guzan unavailable
Of course, it will not be a complete first-choice lineup for Atlanta against the Battery. Josef Martínez (international duty) and Villalba (knee injury) will be missing in from the attack, as expected. Ezequiel Barco, González-Pírez, Julian Gressel and Brad Guzan also will be unavailable.
Barco has not yet returned to Atlanta after Argentina’s last-16 run at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland. He is expected back Tuesday and will take in a light training session Wednesday before rejoining the first team on Thursday.
Gressel looked worn out toward the end of Atlanta’s recent stretch of eight games in 28 days and did not participate in training Monday. De Boer said the German has general muscle tightness and is expected to resume training next week. González-Pírez and Guzan both played every minute of the aforementioned congested schedule and will take Tuesday off to rest. They participated in training Monday but will not make the trip to the Holy City.
Villalba has not played since sustaining a knee injury during a 1-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls on May 19. He underwent treatment in his native Argentina and is expected to be available for Atlanta’s June 26 game at Toronto.
Williams, Vazquez in contention to start
Asked about the Open Cup’s rule that allows only five international players per team, de Boer noted he has only five international players available for the game: Franco Escobar, Eric Remedi, Dion Pereira, Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez and Florentin Pogba. (Players with green cards do not occupy international slots.)
Center forward may be the biggest question regarding Atlanta’s lineup against Charleston. Romario Williams and Brandon Vazquez, who scored in Atlanta United 2’s loss to New York Red Bulls II over the weekend, both are available.
“Normally, there is no discussion who is number one: That’s Josef,” de Boer said. “But the number two spot — in the beginning of the season, it was doubtful who was number two or number three. They have to challenge, they have to show it in training, and I will make my choices.”
Barco to Napoli ‘not serious’
After the win over Chicago, de Boer revealed Atlanta will be active during the Major League Soccer secondary transfer window this summer. The Five Stripes are looking to buy, but selling is a possibility too.
“Some players are playing on a good level, so then you get interest from other clubs,” de Boer said. “We have to be prepared for everything. That’s why a good scouting department is important: that you can handle [a departure], as quick as possible.”
De Boer specifically mentioned the recent report that Serie A club Napoli is interested in Barco, who turned in a star performance at the U-20 World Cup. That rumor should not concern Atlanta fans right now.
“We didn’t hear nothing serious of that, only what you hear and read in newspapers,” the manager said. “So it’s not serious.”
Another Pogba in town
A familiar, but different, face showed up at Atlanta United 2 training Monday. Mathias Pogba, twin of Florentin and older brother of Manchester United’s Paul, worked with Atlanta’s reserve team.
It is unknown whether the club has signed Mathias Pogba. It is possible he is visiting his brother’s team in the European offseason. Pro Soccer USA has reached out to the club for more information.
A 6-foot-4 center forward, Mathias Pogba played the 2018-19 season with French third-division side Tours.