Miles Robinson scored his first-career goal during Atlanta United’s 3-2 U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 win over the Columbus Crew Tuesday night, heading an Ezequiel Barco corner past Crew goalkeeper Jon Kempin.
When a goal is scored off a corner kick, the common perception is that it is a result of “putting the ball in the mixer and seeing what happens.” It supposedly boils down to right-place, right-time luck. That was not the case for Robinson. He knew exactly where to be to open his account.
“It was a set piece that we worked on earlier in the last week,” Robinson said after the game, per a quote sheet provided by the club. “It was drawn up beforehand.”
The Five Stripes routinely study film ahead of training on the day before a game. Researching Columbus, Frank de Boer and his assistants identified a weakness on corner defending. Atlanta knew there would be space at the back post for Robinson, the 6-foot-2 breakout star at centerback, to rise up for a free header. Scoring was just a matter of execution, and Barco and Robinson executed.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 18, 2019
“No,” Robinson said on whether he was surprised to be so open on the goal. “I think the coaches knew where their weaknesses would be on set pieces. I curled around the back and they thought there would be an opening there — and there was.”
Vazquez proves Atlanta has depth beyond Josef
There is no replacing Josef Martínez in Atlanta United’s starting XI. No one disputes this. But, when Atlanta is forced to play without Major League Soccer’s record holder for goals in a single season, as has been the case in its past two U.S. Open Cup games, all is not lost.
With Martínez away with Venezuela at the Copa America, Brandon Vazquez has four goals in 127 minutes to lead the Five Stripes into the Open Cup quarterfinals.
“It’s nice to see that when Josef is not here, he can replace him quite well,” manager Frank de Boer said of Vazquez after Tuesday’s win.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 18, 2019
Vazquez scored his first goal against Columbus when he took advantage of Crew midfielder David Guzmán’s loose touch. Vazquez poked the ball through Guzmán’s legs, took a quick dribble into the box and finished with a hard, low shot. The forward completed his brace with a nifty dribble to lose centerback Alex Crognale along the byline. He beat Kempin from a tight angle inside the far post. On both goals, Vazquez showed composure and clinical finishing.
Vazquez nearly bagged a hat trick. In the 38th minute, he intercepted a poor back pass and rounded Kempin near the byline. With Crew defenders retreating, there was no time to improve his shooting angle, and he put a curling effort from 17 yards off the post.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 19, 2019
In addition to the goals, Vazquez showed good hold-up play. He ended the night with four recoveries, three successful dribbles and two fouls won.
“I think you can see tonight, he was challenging, he was winning duels,” de Boer said. “He was sometimes a focal point where guys can play to him and he will play to guys under him. He also was clever tonight, like on that shot when he hit the post, he sees the defender is trying to pass back and he gets in between that pass. I think he had a very good performance.”
Another ’empty-stadium’ game
Last week, Atlanta defeated the Charleston Battery in an empty stadium. The Open Cup fourth round game was played with no fans in attendance at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., because of “the immediate rescheduling of the event” due to weather in Charleston and “insufficient time to secure staff and security personnel at the venue.”
Tuesday’s game at Columbus was not closed to the public. Nevertheless, Atlanta felt a similar challenge of staying sharp without much atmosphere to get the adrenaline pumping.
“When you talk about empty stadiums, I don’t know how many people will be there on Tuesday night,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said ahead of the game. The official announced attendance said 8,659 fans showed up at MAPFRE Stadium.
Atlanta will host its quarterfinal game against either FC Cincinnati or St. Louis FC at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on July 10. A pre-sale for season-ticket holders went live Wednesday morning, and tickets go on sale for the general public Thursday.
De Boer looks forward to playing in front of his team’s fans again.
“We want to win the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup,” the manager said. “That’s our objective, and next time we will play at home and that is an advantage. Hopefully the supporters will be back supporting us.
“In an empty stadium it was tough. Hopefully in a month we have a lot of supporters that will support us and help us achieve another record, moving on to the next round. Hopefully we can achieve that.”