Atlanta United’s first game in the Carolina Challenge Cup wasn’t peachy, as the Five Stripes, wearing their new secondary kits, were beaten by Columbus 3-1 on Saturday at MUSC Health Stadium.
The Crew grabbed their lead on goals in the first half by Pedro Santos and an unbelievable chip by Cristian Martinez, and an own goal by Josef Martinez in the second half.
Unlike in their meeting in the playoffs in which Atlanta United forced Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen into making eight saves, the Five Stripes rarely threatened his goal Saturday on a warm, stuffy night.
The Five Stripes were without three presumed starters, Hector Villalba, Franco Escobar and Michael Parkhurst, who were withheld for precautionary reasons. The starting lineup did include Josef Martinez, Darlington Nagbe, Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco.
Almiron scored Atlanta United’s goal in the 90th minute on an assist by Martinez.
Atlanta United will play Minnesota United on Wednesday and Charleston on Saturday in the tournament.
Columbus grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Santos in the 13th minute. Federico Higuain’s pass sprung Santos into space. Jeff Larentowicz had followed a Crew player running into the penalty box, which left the space for Santos to move into. He took a touch and hit a right-footed shot low and into the opposite corner of Brad Guzan’s goal.
The Crew increased their lead to 2-0 when Cristian Martinez chipped Guzan from 40 yards away in the 34th minute. Guzan may have been up the field because in the preceding sequence of plays, Atlanta United had a free kick 19 yards from Columbus’ goal. The free kick was rewarded because Columbus central defender Lalas Abubakar kicked Josef Martinez in the face when both were going for a high ball. Abubakar received a yellow card.
Cristian Martinez’s chip came after a long diagonal pass. With Columbus scoring on a long pass, manager Gerardo Martino said the team needed to improve defending those attacks.
Julian Gressel just missed getting a goal back in the 48th minute when he and Josef Martinez executed a nice 1-2 pass, with Martinez chipping it to Gressel in the penalty box. He reached the ball with his right foot, but couldn’t get anything on the shot, and it rolled wide of the goal.
Almiron followed in the 54th minute with a shot that sailed over the crossbar. Atlanta United’s press forced a Columbus turnover just outside the penalty box. Almiron pounced on the loose ball, dribbled and then hit the shot too hard.
Columbus took a 3-0 lead on an own goal by Josef Martinez in the 71st minute. Martinez jumped to try to head away a corner kick. The ball appeared to bounce off the side of his head and into the corner of the goal.