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Atlanta United U.S. Open Cup opponent revealed, plus VAR frustrations and more

May 20, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez (5) reacts after a call by the referee resulting in a New York Red Bulls penalty kick during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, Atlanta United FC will host the Charleston Battery in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

The game will be played June 6 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, home to Kennesaw State University in nearby Cobb County, Ga.

Things could be awkward for two Battery players. Gordon Wild and Patrick Okonkwo are both on loan to the United Soccer League side from Atlanta United. Wild, a 2018 Major League Soccer SuperDraft pick by Atlanta United, scored in the 83rd minute against Elm City Express on Wednesday to help the Battery advance in the Open Cup.

A year ago, more than 9,000 people attended the Open Cup match between the Battery and Five Stripes. Atlanta United won 3-2 after a lightning delay.

For the Five Stripes, the Open Cup game comes four days after a home match against the Philadelphia Union and three days before an away game at New York City FC. Fans should expect to see bench players and even some ATL UTD 2 players featured in the Open Cup game.

In Atlanta’s Open Cup game last year, five players got their first starts of the season and another, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, debuted as a substitute. However, Miguel Almirón, Josef Martínez, Jeff Larentowicz and Kevin Kratz also played.

Atlanta frustrated with VAR, officiating

In the Five Stripes’ loss to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, they dealt with a red card, a disallowed goal and a conceded penalty kick.

The red card given to Greg Garza in the 71st minute was the third Atlanta United has received this season, tied for the lead league. It was the second consecutive home match that a goal from Martínez was wiped off the board after a review from the Video Assistant Referee, also known as VAR.

A red card was also given to Jeff Larentowicz shortly after halftime, but it was lowered to a yellow after VAR.

Players were frustrated after the game. Martínez refused to talk to the media and several players cleared out of the locker room before reporters entered. Leandro González Pírez stuck around to say that referees Chris Penso and Mark Geiger should be “suspended” and that the penalty call on Miles Robinson was “stupid.”

“The callback on the goal by Josef was stupid because [Tim] Parker ran to one side and Josef ran to the other side, and we passed the ball. Then, the [referee] called a foul,” González Pírez said. “That is a foul? That is real? It is stupid. It’s the same. Every single week it is the same. This is the first problem.”

Penso handed González Pírez a yellow card in the 65th minute. It was the fifth of the season for the Argentine centerback, which means he will have to sit out Atlanta United’s match against the New England Revolution.

Atlanta United coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino spent much of his postgame press conference discussing officiating and the use of VAR. He was specifically unhappy with Geiger, who was in charge of VAR on Sunday.

“I got 10 messages from Argentina asking me, ‘Who reviews VAR?’ Because it’s hard to believe that someone can call that penalty, and someone reviews it and still sees a penalty. I invite any of you to watch the play. There was nothing. Nothing. But that’s how things are,” Martino said through a translator. “And again, the worry is for you all, because the person reviewing VAR is going to the World Cup. It’s going to speak poorly of you all, not me.”

Geiger was the head official for Atlanta United’s loss to Sporting Kansas City and disallowed a Martinez goal in that game too.

“I don’t want to take away credit from Red Bulls, so I don’t want to justify it with VAR, because Red Bulls is a very good team and the same thing for Kansas City,” Martino said. “But the reality is that both games had the same protagonist, and when I say the same, I’m not talking about the referee. I’m talking about the same person. In one game he refereed and in the other he reviewed. And they were decisive in the outcome of the game.”

The officiating even had Captain Michael Parkhurst a little fired up after the game.

“The VAR is just too often. They tell us that it’s going to be once every three games and we have it almost every home game, at least once,” Parkhurst said. “It needs to get better all around. That being said, our response needs to be better as well. We can’t let that stuff distract us.”

Notes

  • Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar returned to training Thursday. Escobar, 23, has missed the Five Stripes’ past three games due to what the club called an “abdominal” injury. He also missed four games earlier this season due to a concussion.
  • A report from Paraguayan news source ABC Cardinal says that Atlanta United forward Héctor “Tito” Villalba is in the process of switching national teams to Paraguay, where his father is from. Villalba, 23, was born in Argentina but has never been capped by the national team. Paraguay’s next national team match is a friendly on June 12 vs. Japan.
  • According to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be open for Atlanta United’s next home game, on June 2 vs. the Philadelphia Union.
  • Atlanta United U17 academy midfielder Takuma Suziki has committed to play college soccer at Wake Forest. He is from Peachtree City, Ga.
  • Larentowicz started his 350th career MLS game Sunday, tied for fifth place all-time in league history by a field player.
  • The Sports Business Journal named Atlanta United and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank as its Executive of the Year.

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