KENNESAW, Ga. — Following Atlanta United’s 3-1 extra-time win over the Charleston Battery in the fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup, manager Frank de Boer said the grass surface at Charleston’s MUSC Health Stadium, where the game was meant to be played earlier this week, was unplayable.
“We don’t want that we get injuries, silly injuries, and this field in Charleston was really dangerous,” de Boer told reporters after the game. “There were so many spots, not only one, but like six, seven spots on the field where you knew that if you were going to try to stop, you were going to slide two meters through. It was was dangerous for every player, also for the Battery players.
“I think it was the right decision [to abandon the game.]”
Justin Meram, who entered Thursday night as a substitute in the 58th minute and provided two assists in extra time, said the surface was “obviously not ideal, but we were focused. We would have played on it and try to dig deep to get a result.” Brandon Vázquez, who scored the two extra-time goals, agreed with Meram, but said he played on worse pitches during his time in Mexico.
“We’ve all played on worse growing up,” Vázquez said. “We’ve all played through it, so it was good.”
The Five Stripes and Battery were supposed to play Tuesday night at MUSC Health Stadium. U.S. Soccer abandoned the game and moved it to Kennesaw due to the poor field conditions and impending heavy rain in the Charleston area.
The Meram-to-Vázquez connection
Atlanta needed a 78th-minute goal just to avoid a “cupset” and get to extra time. In the extra half-hour, Meram and Vázquez took over. The latter made consistent, dangerous runs at the Charleston back line, and the former played the right passes.
“That’s like my style of play,” Vázquez said. “I make unselfish runs — selfish runs as well — so good result for the team.”
Meram had a chance to put Atlanta in front in the 107th minute. With a free header from inside six yards off a good cross from Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, the winger drove the ball into the ground and over the cross bar. He atoned for the missed opportunity.
“Just trying to make up for the miss, the header,” Meram said of his two assists. “Short-term memory with me. I just want to get on the ball, and I felt comfortable. Brandon was making some good runs, and I made some good passes. Great finishes by him.”
Atlanta struggled to adapt
Both teams had to deal with the mental challenge of the abandonment, reschedule and relocation of the game. Charleston did a better job from the beginning. The Battery opened the scoring on 20 minutes and deserved the goal.
“I think Charleston Battery did a little bit better in the first 20 minutes,” de Boer said. “I already said to the players after the game, ‘It’s a pity that we started 20 minutes too late.’ After that, we came into the game, we had our chances — maybe not just a little bit luck to score a goal, but we showed character.”
The Five Stripes grew into the game, equalized and finished the job in extra time. Still, they dealt with a harrowing finish. After Vázquez put Atlanta ahead in the 110th minute, Charleston twice nearly equalized. The assistant referee deemed a 117th-minute goal, which game after a good save from Alec Kann, to be offside. In the 119th minute, Arthur Bosua was one-on-one with Kann and chipped the keeper, but his shot bounced off the underside of the crossbar and back out.
“We were 2-1 up, and then in one or two minutes we give two very big chances away,” De Boer lamented. “I said, ‘You worked so very hard to come 2-1 up, and then in two minutes you just give it away again.’ That cannot happen. As a team you have to take everything in consideration. They cannot get chances, and they had two chances.
“I think that was quite ‘amateuristic,’ what we showed in that moment. Luckily for us, we made it 3-1 and then the resistance was gone, of course.”