It was a tough and treacherous night for Atlanta United as they fell 2-0 to the Columbus Crew in pouring rain at MAPFRE Stadium.
Head coach Frank de Boer made a few changes to the lineup that faced the Philadelphia Union a few weeks back with Franco Escobar making his first start of 2018 after suffering a preseason injury, Mikey Ambrose also sliding into the back line and Ezequiel Barco returning to the lineup. Newcomer Pity Martinez had to miss his first match, left out of the roster after picking up a knock on international duty with Argentina. The full Starting XI against the Crew: Brad Guzan (GK), Mikey Ambrose (LB), Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Eric Remedi (MID), Julian Gressel (MID), Tito Villalba (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Ezequiel Barco (FWD)
The torrential downpour throughout the day foreshadowed a sloppy game to come and the conditions played a role immediately. In the second minute, a dangerous low cross across the Atlanta United penalty area deflected off a few bodies before landing at the feet of Pedro Santos who gave the home side an early lead.
But it was Atlanta who came roaring back with a number of chances, hungry to grab an equalizer. Charging at the Columbus back line, Julian Gressel combined well with Josef Martinez but the German’s shot rolled wide left. Then it was Ezequiel Barco who earned a set piece just outside the eighteen-yard-box, but his attempt sailed just over the bar. But their closest opportunity in the early stages fell to Julian Gressel once again, this time latching onto a Mikey Ambrose cross but his redirected header was kept out by the Crew’s goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
After a brief weather delay following the half-hour mark, Atlanta United returned to the drenched pitch on the front foot again with Franco Escobar delivering a low service across the Columbus six-yard-box. After splashing through the area, the ball fell to Ezequiel Barco who nearly found the equalizer inside the post, but again Zack Steffen’s fingertips were just enough to keep the home side in the lead.
But with Atlanta United unable to find the equalizing goal, Columbus doubled their lead just before halftime. New Crew signing Robinho picked out Gyasi Zardes 10 yards from goal and the U.S. international put in their second of the night with a first-time finish.
The halftime break did not prove kind for the surface or for the players as the water continued to pile up on the pitch. Some early scrambles resulted in chances for both sides with a Tito Villalba shot deflected just wide, a Robinho attempt that slammed off the post, and just minutes later, a penalty awarded to Columbus saved by Atlanta’s Brad Guzan.
Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams, and Brek Shea all came on in the second half to bring some energy and potentially bring Atlanta back into the match. Shea almost grabbed one back nearly lifting the ball over Steffen, but he again came to the rescue for the home side, ultimately securing the 2-0 scoreline.
Atlanta United have another two-week stretch before they return to action on the road in New England to face the Revolution. The Five Stripes will then be back home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on April 20th to host FC Dallas, make sure to secure your tickets here.