Atlanta United: When will the team find Open Cup success?

ATLANTA, GA MAY 12: Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer prior to the start of the MLS match between Orlando City SC and Atlanta United FC on May 12th, 2019 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA MAY 12: Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer prior to the start of the MLS match between Orlando City SC and Atlanta United FC on May 12th, 2019 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Atlanta United have yet to experience U.S. Open Cup success in their brief club history. Will this year be any different under new coach Frank de Boer?

Atlanta United will try their hand for a third time at making a run in the U.S. Open Cup. Their first opponent will be the Charleston Battery, who are familiar to the Five Stripes. And while Atlanta, in two tries, have advanced past Charleston with ease, it’s after that first opponent that they struggle — and, according to some, fail.

In 2017, during their first Open Cup appearance, Atlanta came from behind to defeat Charleston 3-2 after an extremely lengthy storm delay. The teams played in Kennesaw at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, a venue that Atlanta has become somewhat familiar with. After the exhilarating comeback, Atlanta drew Miami FC, one of the top NASL teams. Once again, Atlanta had to fight from an early deficit, but this time, Miami scored in second-half stoppage time to beat Atlanta 3-2.

In 2018, Atlanta drew Charleston in Kennesaw once again, only this time they defeated Charleston with ease in a 3-0 victory. Instead of drawing an opponent on the road, they drew Chicago Fire at home. The Five Stripes proceeded to break the Open Cup attendance record with over 40,000 in attendance at Mercedes Benz Stadium but lost to Chicago 1-0 and once again bowed out of the tournament in the Round of 16.

Will this year be any different? Is the third time the charm? What is the definition of success through the perception of this tournament?

Frank de Boer is now in charge of Atlanta United. His new management brings different tactics, and a different style, and now, different objectives. It was certainly Tata Martino’s goal to win trophies, but based on the results, it never felt like he was trying to win the Open Cup. With de Boer, things feel different and I think we will see a different Atlanta United in the tournament.

The Five Stripes already tried their hand in a tournament earlier this season, advancing to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. At the time, it was disappointing to watch the team lose 3-1 on aggregate to Monterrey of Liga MX. Some might have seen the loss as a failure. In hindsight, however, the run was somewhat impressive.

Atlanta, whose form didn’t actually come around until the month of May, had to endure a new coaching staff, new players, and match congestion. Compared to Sporting KC, who lost to Monterrey 10-2 on aggregate in the subsequent round, Atlanta’s series loss actually looks somewhat palatable.

Now that the players are more familiar with de Boer and his coaching staff, this may be a perfect opportunity to chase a trophy. The team is finding solid form as it climbs the MLS table. There is cohesion among the players and staff, and, after a couple of breaks in play, the players should be ready to go. With the lessons learned from the CCL, Atlanta may have a strong performance in the Open Cup.

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For a club like Atlanta United, the only definition of success is winning games and, more specifically, winning trophies. This tournament not only represents a chance to claim more silverware, but it’s also an opportunity to get back into the CONCACAF Champions League, leading to possibly more trophies next year — and the CCL would be the most significant of them all.

While success for the front office is winning the tournament, fans may not be as strict with their personal definition. Perhaps a deep run will satisfy fans’ expectations. Depending on who you ask, just advancing to the quarter-finals will be enough. Or maybe a run to the semi-final or final is needed in order to consider this season’s Open Cup successful.

I believe it is imperative the team advances to the quarter-finals. Despite the success so far this year, de Boer’s squad is not nearly as dominant as last year’s MLS Cup-winning side. And while the team may still win the MLS Cup this year, winning the Supporters’ Shield seems like a reach. Why not attempt to win the Open Cup? That attempt starts with doing something no previous Atlanta iteration has done: advancing to the quarter-finals.

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If the Five Stripes can get out of the Round of 16, not only would I call it a success, but I believe it would lead to the possibility of winning the whole tournament, and that is something worth fighting for.