Saint Louis F.C.’s Cup Run Ends In Loss to Atlanta United
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis, MO- While the clock eventually struck midnight on Cinderella, her story at least had a happy ending. While the story of this season for Saint Louis F.C. has yet to be written, the clock struck midnight on their fairy tale cup run Wednesday night.
In front of a capacity crowd at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., STLFC were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup, losing their quarterfinal match vs. Atlanta United of Major League Soccer by a score of 2-0.
“I think the work the guys put in tonight was fantastic, “said STLFC head coach Anthony Pulis. “We’re playing against a top team with top individual players who can move the ball really quickly, but I thought the guys handled themselves well in certain situations.”
STLFC were reminded pre-game how daunting their task was going to be when Atlanta’s starting eleven was announced, featuring several regulars including reigning MLS MVP Josef Martínez.
The match started as expected with Atlanta controlling possession. Their first chance came in the 5th minute when Justin Meram found a cutting Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez in the box, who’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Tomas Gomez.
Pity would find himself open in the box once again in the 10th minute when he was played in by Martínez, but his curling effort went wide left by just a couple of inches.
Martínez would continue to showcase his skills as one of the best strikers in MLS when he got in behind the defense in the 14th minute, but his shot clanged off the outside of the right post and out of play.
The forward had another dangerous opportunity in the 24th minute when he got on the end of a weak back header towards goal by defender Phanuel Kavita, but Gomez came off his line to close down the shot.
STLFC’s first and only chance of the first half came in the 37th minute when captain Sam Fink produced another fine header off of a corner, but it grazed the outside of the left post and out of play.
STLFC managed to hold onto the 0-0 scoreline till halftime, having successfully kept a clean sheet till that point. That accomplishment, however, would not last long into the second half.
The opening goal came in the 52nd minute when outside back Matt Bahner turned the ball over at the top of his own box. Midfielder Emerson Hyndman, who was making his debut for Atlanta after being signed on loan from AFC Bournemouth of the English Premier League, set up Pity whose curling effort from the left side of the box found the top right corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.
STLFC, who depended upon set pieces all night, thought they had a chance to tie the game in the 69th minute when Fink was open at the back post off a corner, but his header went wide.
Atlanta almost booked their place in the semifinals in the 77th minute when midfielder Eric Remedi let loose a powerful shot from the top of the box, but a diving Gomez was able to make the save.
STLFC would continue to push for the equalizer into stoppage time, including earning three straight corner kicks, but were unable to unlock Atlanta’s defense.
Atlanta sealed the victory with essentially the last kick of the game, when they were awarded a penalty after defender Sean Reynolds brought down substitute Dion Pereira with a last-ditch sliding challenge. Martínez stepped up to hit his shot into the roof of the net and send Atlanta to the next round.
“The manner in which we conceded the goals was disappointing, but I think we have to have some perspective and look at what we’ve done to get here and to give ourselves an opportunity of competing against a top team,” said Pulis.
Perspective seemed to be the word of the night as the club came to terms with the end to their historic run at the hands of one of the most elite clubs in North America.
“I’m proud of the guys for the fight they showed,” said Fink. “That’s the best team in MLS. That’s the defending champions. We did all we could.”
STLFC will have to quickly refocus on getting back on track in the league, as they travel to North Carolina to take on the Charlotte Independence on Saturday.