The Charleston Battery soccer team has built the reputation of giant killer over the last two decades in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Charleston in 2008 was the last non-Major League Soccer club to advance to the tournament’s championship game. The Battery has more than a half-dozen victories over MLS clubs, including Houston, Dallas, Chivas USA, Chicago and San Jose, in the tournament that began in 1913.
The one MLS team the Battery can’t seem to conquer in the U.S. Open Cup is Atlanta United. The defending MLS champions have eliminated the Battery from the tournament each of the last two seasons. In 2017, the Battery held a 2-1 halftime time only to watch league MVP Jose Martinez come off the bench and lead Atlanta United to a 3-2 victory.
A year ago, two former Battery players – Andrew Carleton and Romario Williams – scored goals to lead Atlanta past Charleston, 3-0. Both games were played at Fifth Third Bank Field in Kennesaw, Ga.
Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser is hoping a change of venue will be good for the Battery on Tuesday as they play Atlanta for the third time in three years.
The Battery plays Atlanta United at MUSC Health Stadium at 7:30 p.m. in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
“I think the biggest difference for us this year is that the game will be on our pitch and in front of our fans,” Anhaeuser said. “Traveling is tough and they have to come to our place and that’s a big difference compared to the last two years when we had to go down there and play in front of their fans.
"We’ve played very well over the years against MLS teams on our field and hopefully our fans will give us that little extra boost of energy we need.”
The last time the Battery defeated an MLS team at home in the U.S. Open Cup was a 1-0 victory over San Jose in 2013. Since then, the Battery is 0-4 against the MLS in U.S. Open Cup matches, but only one of those games came at MUSC Health Stadium – a 5-4 loss to Orlando City on penalty kicks in 2015.
“It should be a great atmosphere,” said Charleston Battery captain Taylor Mueller. “We know our fans are going to show up and Atlanta should bring some fans, too. I think that’ll help us. I think it’ll give us some extra energy. You always want to put your best foot forward in a Cup competition and especially when you’re playing against a team from a higher division.”
The loss two years ago is especially painful for Mueller, who thinks that was a match the Battery let slip away. Charleston had a chance to take a 3-1 just before halftime had O’Brian Woodbine converted on a penalty kick.
“We had a chance to break them just before halftime, but we miss that penalty,” Mueller said. “That could have been the back-breaker.”
The Five Stripes are not just any MLS team. Atlanta United is the defending MLS Cup champion with a powerful lineup, having won six of its last eight matches in league play.
“I won’t have to tell my guys anything,” Anhaeuser said. “They know how important this game is. It’s going to be easy to get them up for a game like this. Emotionally, we won’t need a spark and if they do, they shouldn’t be on the pitch. This is a real game for Atlanta. This isn’t the preseason, it isn’t a challenge cup game, this is a game where if you win, you move on.”
Atlanta will be without two of its top attacking players in Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. Martinez, who set an MLS record with 27 regular-season goals in 2018, is with Venezuela playing in the Copa America Cup. Barco has been with Argentina playing in the U-20 championships.
Williams, who led the Battery in scoring in 2015 and 2016, and Carleton could see extended playing time with Atlanta Tuesday night.
“They’ve got a ton of depth on their roster,” Mueller said. “They have some very talented players and some of these guys are fighting for a starting spot, so we know they are going to be hungry. We know what Romario and Andrew are capable of. We’ve practiced against them, so we are very familiar with the way they play.”
Charleston will be missing a couple of players of its own — top scorer Zeiko Lewis and defender Leland Archer.
"It’s kind of that next man up mentality,” Mueller said. “It’s an opportunity for guys to step in and get noticed.”