A brace from Tito Villalba and Alec Kann’s second-straight clean sheet earned Atlanta United a hard-fought road victory over the Columbus Crew, and their third win in four league matches.
Head coach Tata Martino reverted back to his regular MLS lineup, rotating out many of the starters from the midweek match against Miami. He opted for Anton Walkes again at right back, with the 20-year-old making his third start of the week. The full XI to face Columbus: Alec Kann (GK), Anton Walkes (RB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Greg Garza (LB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Carlos Carmona (CM), Yamil Asad (LW), Miguel Almirón, Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
It was a stop-and-start opening period of the game, with Miguel Almirón’s blast off the post the closest either side came in the opening stages. But despite all of Atlanta’s intricate passing, it was a long ball that opened the scoring. Alec Kann received the ball with 26 minutes on the clock and launched a lob down the field toward the opposing goal. One misstep from a Columbus defender was all Tito Villalba needed, pouncing on the bouncing ball just outside the penalty box and lofting it over the goalkeeper to take the 1-0 lead.
Alec Kann almost recorded his second assist of the match ten minutes later, with the Crew’s back line failing to deal a long ball in the 36th minute. But Josef Martinez couldn’t quite get the shot on target, and the teams headed into the half with the score 1-0 in Atlanta’s favor.
Columbus’s potent attack pushed hard for an equalizer, but it was Tito Villalba again who would get on the scoreboard next. Atlanta’s suffocating defensive press caused another turnover on a short field in the 64th minute, and Miguel Almirón did well to beat his man and get to the byline. The defense got to his cross first, but could only clear it as far as Villalba, who took one touch and blasted it past the goalkeeper from close range.
Despite Columbus bringing on more attacking talent, Atlanta was able to keep the Crew’s defense at arm’s length, riding out the second half for a 2-0 win. It was Atlanta’s second-straight clean sheet, and especially impressive as it ended Columbus’s streak of 19 straight home matches with a goal. It was also a welcome end to another streak: in front of the Crew’s biggest crowd since 2015, Atlanta got a vital road win after five straight away from home without a win.
The win pushes Atlanta above Columbus into 5th place in the Eastern Conference standings, further solidifying their spot above the playoff line. But there’s no time for the red, black, and gold to celebrate, with the next match approaching in just three days against the San Jose Earthquakes back at home in Bobby Dodd Stadium. That July 4th matchup is all sold out, but will be broadcast live on Fox Sports South. Click here for a full rundown of you how you can tune in and support the Five Stripes.