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U.S. Open Cup Preview: Crew vs Atlanta United

The Eastern Conference foes meet for the second time in this year, this time in the Open Cup.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In the chase for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy, Columbus Crew SC square off against Major League Soccer rival Atlanta United FC in the Round of 16. This is the first time that both teams will face off since their previous monsoon-filled encounter in Major League Soccer play on March 30 at MAPFRE Stadium.

While both teams are without key players for the contest, it won’t be short of any thrills. The Crew and United are both coming off of fourth round victories versus USL Championship opponents in Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Charleston Battery, respectively.

Tuesday marks the first time that both teams will square off in the Open Cup tournament. The winner of the Round of 16 matchup will go on to face the winner of St. Louis FC and FC Cincinnati in the quarterfinals.

Atlanta United Team News

Reported by Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, Atlanta will be without two key players for Tuesdays match against Columbus. United manager Frank de Boer is keeping midfielder Julian Gressel out, with a return in MLS play likely against Toronto FC on June 26, which “looks really good.” Hector Villalba is unlikely to play with a ligament injury that he continues recovering from.

Returning from a Under-20 World Cup stint with Argentina is midfielder Ezequiel Barco, who participated in training with Atlanta on Monday. Striker Josef Martinez is not available, as he is participating in the Gold Cup with his national team Venezuela.

Columbus Crew Team News

Not much has changed for the Black & Gold since last Tuesday’s Open victory against Pittsburgh. Head coach Caleb Porter will be without key players Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes and Zack Steffen as they prepare for a game of their own on Tuesday, the U.S. Men’s National team’s opening match of the Gold Cup versus Guyana. Defender Jonathan Mensah is also unavailable while he is training with Ghana for the African Cup of Nations.

Several injuries that have haunted the Black & Gold in recent weeks are looking a little better. Waylon Francis was a full participant in practice last week after recovering from a thigh injury. Harrison Afful looks fully cleared to play after he played 45 minutes against Pittsburgh following a broken jaw back in March against Atlanta United, which makes the Crew’s fullback options look more solidified moving forward.

Josh Williams is not expected to be available to Porter, as he was held out of practice all of this past week with a heel injury.

Columbus Crew Projected Starting XI

Given the absences Porter is forced to deal with, he will likely go with the same starting 11 that gave him success against the Riverhounds, with the addition of Waylon Francis at left back.

Atlanta United Projected Starting XI

There’s a strong possibility that De Boer gives the nod at left wing to Justin Meram against his former team given the familiarity he has with the side, replacing Dion Pereira.

The return of Barco will be a major plus for De Boer as he will most certainly get minutes. A safe bet seems he will feature in his natural position at center attacking midfield. Andrew Carleton had an uninspiring performance versus the Battery and De Boer will look to get the best out of the position against the Black & Gold.

Backup striker Romario Williams was able to nab a late equalizer, which ultimately saved United’s Open Cup run.

How the Crew win

The Crew will win if they can keep their momentum high following last weeks victory. While it was anything but pretty, wins haven’t been common for the Black & Gold in recent months. It’s important to keep their high and ride it into Tuesday and beyond, especially with the absences of key players.

Atlanta is without 2018 MLS MVP in Martinez, which is huge news for Columbus fans. The goals will have to come from somewhere for United, so it will be a matter of who will steps up and takes advantage of their opportunity. It’s clear that it won’t be easy, since Charleston was able to take Atlanta the full 90 minutes plus extra time and almost get a result against the defending MLS Cup Champions.

Assuming there’s a lack of a torrential downpour in Columbus on Tuesday night, it should be a hard fought match between both teams.

How to watch

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Venue: Mapfre Stadium; Columbus, OH

Streaming: ESPN+