Atlanta United (0-1-2) is back from the international break and will be back on the pitch in MLS play this weekend as the team heads to Ohio to take on an Eastern Conference rival in the Columbus Crew (2-1-1). The Five Stripes are hungry for their first win of the season, but will have to play well to get it against a side expected to be near the top of the standings in the East this season.
Ahead of the match, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Disrupt the Midfield
Columbus has a striker up top in Gyasi Zardes who thrives on chances in the box, a poacher and lethal finisher that finished with 19 league goals last season. But as a finisher by trade, he’s not usually as involved in the build-up play. So the best way to keep him off the scoresheet is to starve him of service from the creators behind them by disrupting the Crew midfield. Federico Higuain may be nearing the end of his illustrious career in MLS, but he is still capable of creating a scoring chance out of nothing, and he has a near-telepathic connection with longtime teammate Justin Meram on the left wing. With Portuguese winger Pedro Santos showing the lightning feet on the right wing that made his signing such a coup for the Crew, they have plenty of creative options –– and stopping them will be the key to bringing home all three points.
Stop Set Pieces
The Columbus Crew sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, and there may be no bigger reason so far than their effectiveness on set pieces, particularly Gaston Sauro. Of the Crew’s four league goals this year, two of them have come off of the head of the Argentine center back who is feasting on the dangerous deliveries of Federico Higuain and Pedro Santos. The Five Stripes have been shaky at times on set pieces so far this year, but they’ll be hoping some time back on the training ground the past two weeks will help them lock it up on the back from dead ball situations. If they can, that will be a major scoring outlet off the board for the Crew attack.
Turn the Defense
In order to diagnose how to crack through a stout Columbus Crew defense, Atlanta United could go back and watch the tape of David Accam last week. The former Chicago Fire forward had his best match in a Philadelphia Union shirt to hand Columbus their first loss of the season last week, with his two goals and one assist earning him MLS Player of the Week honors. Both goals came off early passes from the middle that helped him get behind the defense and turned them back running toward their own goal. The ensuing chaos is where Accam thrived, beating Columbus ‘keeper Joe Bendik both at the near post and far in a star performance. Columbus is an aggressive attacking side, especially at home, but that can leave them open to counter attacks. The Five Stripes will have to weather that storm, but they can use that against them by getting out on the break on turnovers in transition. If Atlanta United can get that attacking momentum to turn the Columbus defense back to their own goal, the red black and gold will make chances in a venue in which they’ve had success in the past.
The match is set to kick off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET from MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. You can watch the match on FOX Sports South, stream it on FOX Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.