Atlanta United needed a win Tuesday to stay alive in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, and the team answered the call with a massive 4-2 win over Columbus Crew in front of a home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The four goals, scored by Giorgos Giakoumakis, Xande Silva, Edwin Mosquera and Thiago Almada, was the most in a single game in Atlanta United's playoff history. The Round One Best-of-3 series is now tied with each side winning one game apiece.
After falling in Game 1, Tuesday night's victory means a third match between Eastern Conference 6-seed Atlanta United and 3-seed Columbus Crew will decide the series. The winner of Game 3, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 12 in Columbus, will advance to the conference semifinals.
Game 2 began with a back-and-forth opening half hour, then Atlanta United took control when leading scorer, and 2023 MLS Newcomer of the Year, broke the deadlock in the 38th minute. Some nice combination play in the attacking third resulted in the ball at the feet of Brooks Lennon near the end line. The fullback made a high, bending cross with his right foot that fell neatly into the pocket of space where Giakoumakis was running on. The striker’s header found the back of the net for his first career goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs and gave the home team the go-ahead goal.
"It feels great," Giakoumakis said. "We had to bounce back, and we did. It was a good booster for what comes next, because we'll need it. We needed a victory with a dominating game, trying to create as much as possible, to score as many goals as possible. And that's what we did."
Atlanta United’s lead didn’t hold long, and Columbus Crew found the equalizer in the 45th minute. Diego Rossi slipped a pass to Cucho Hernandez near the top of the 18-yard box. The striker found some space in a crowded area to place a low-driven shot into the bottom left corner to even the match at 1-1. The goal was Cucho’s third of the series.
The 5-Stripes regained the lead moments later in first-half stoppage time. Again, it was Lennon sending a beautiful, accurate ball, this time over the top to Saba Lobjanidze. The Georgian international made a move, then passed centrally to Giakoumakis, who in turn pivoted and fed the ball to Xande Silva making a diagonal run toward goal. Silva took a one-touch shot and made it count to give Atlanta the go-ahead goal leading into the halftime break -- and donned a Spider-Man mask to celebrate.
With his assist on the play, Giakoumakis became just the third player in club history to record one goal and one assist in an MLS Cup Playoff match. He joins Franco Escobar (2018) and Julian Gressel (2019) as the only players to reach the mark with Atlanta United.
"We were aggressive, we were very disciplined tactically," Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "These games against Columbus, we need to be tactically disciplined. And we were aggressive. When we were pressing, we were pressing together, which is great against a team that plays really well from the back."
Atlanta United capped off the night with two more goals late in the second half. The first arrived in the 83rd minute from Edwin Mosquera, who entered the match as a substitute just three minutes prior to scoring his goal. On a give-and-go with Giakoumakis, the young winger sent a rocket with his left foot inside the 18-yard box for Atlanta's third goal of the night. Almada added to the team's total on a breakaway goal in the 88th minute, chipping a shot over the keeper to make it 4-1 Atlanta for the moment. Columbus would pull one back in second-half stoppage time, scored by Max Arftsen, to end the night with a 4-2 final scoreline.
Giakoumakis recorded an assist on Mosquera's goal, making him the first player in Atlanta United history to contribute to three goals in a single playoff match. Caleb Wiley assisted Almada's goal, the first career contribution in a playoff match for the Atlanta United Homegrown.
"Everything worked well, and I think we could've scored even more," Giakoumakis said. "But at the end of the day, we had a great game and a great result. Nothing's happened yet. We're halfway there. We'll have to repeat that Sunday to move on."
Atlanta United very nearly added one more to the night's total in the 61st minute. Almada threaded a through ball to Giakoumakis, who bypassed a Columbus defender and found a wide open Silva at the far post on a fast break. The winger had an open net from tap-in range but his shot sailed high.
After registering just one shot in the first meeting of the series, Atlanta United bounced back and was much more productive Tuesday night. The home team finished with 14 shots, seven shots on goal and looked altogether like an aggressive attacking side.
"It was a very complete game," Pineda said. "Today we had, not just shots on goal, but the presses, the crosses, the numbers inside the box to make it happen. And I think this is the ideal scenario right before the next game."
Following the Game 1 loss, Pineda emphasized the importance for his team to go all-in for Game 2, which the Atlanta United head coach did with his starting XI. All three of the team's designated players -- Almada, Giakoumakis and Lobjanidze -- started Game 2. Only one of the three (Giakoumakis) was in the starting XI for the series opener on November 1.
The product was an aggressive attack and survival in a do-or-die match -- and an exciting atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Atlanta United won the club's first match in the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2019.
"We talked about getting the fans and the supporters behind us, and we knew that was going to be a crucial part," goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "They were incredible throughout the entire game. It is a massive win and a pleasure to play here at home. Now, we have to roll up our sleeves and go to Ohio and find a way to get another result.”
Shots on target
Up next - It's all on the line, Game 3 in the Round One Best-of-3 series
The next match decides it all for these two clubs as the series heads back to Columbus. It was the same site where Atlanta United lost the opening match of the series 2-0, but then the club was without their single-season assist leader and the 2023 MLS Young Player of the Year, Thiago Almada. The 5-Stripes will have the World Cup winner available for Game 3, and everything to play for, on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.
Follow along and find the latest information and news on Atlanta United's run in the MLS Cup Playoffs on our Playoff Central page.