Atlanta United returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take on the defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew. The match will be the first this season in the full stadium configuration, and the 5-Stripes will look to feed off the energy from the rowdy and proud 17s on Saturday afternoon. Atlanta is coming off an encouraging performance in a 1-1 draw at FC Cincinnati. The Crew played to a 0-0 draw last time out against Nashville. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
Execute the press and turn it into opportunities
Atlanta United has always looked to utilize its press to create turnovers and opportunities to score. In Wednesday’s match at Cincinnati, Atlanta executed 41 pressures in the attacking third to really put the Cincinnati backline under pressure. Those pressures resulted in several turnovers that gave Atlanta opportunities to score.
As the game went on, the 5-Stripes really started to turn it on in the attack. They produced 14 shots in the second half, tied for the third-highest total in team history in an MLS match. Marcelino Moreno had one of his best games with Atlanta United, and he will look to carry that momentum into Saturday’s matchup against Columbus. Moreno led the team with four chances created, four total shots, and was fouled seven times to create some dangerous set piece opportunities. Atlanta United needs another performance like that from its No. 10 on Saturday.
Keep Lucas Zelerayan in check
Atlanta United’s defense will have another tough task on their hands on Saturday when Lucas Zelerayan comes into town. The 2020 MLS Cup MVP leads the team with five goals scored. The midfielder also has taken the most total shots (36) and shots on target (14) for Columbus this season. Zelarayan is also very proficient on set pieces as he leads MLS with four goals off direct free kicks. Atlanta United’s defenders and midfielders will need to limit the spaces that Zelerayan normally enjoys, either as an attacking midfielder or in a false nine role that head coach Caleb Porter has used from time to time. Keeping the Argentine in check will go a long way to a positive result on Saturday for the 5-Stripes.
Continue to take risks and goals will come
Interim head coach Rob Valentino made an effort this week to get Atlanta United’s players to play more free and take more risks. That manifested itself in the match against Cincinnati in midweek. The 5-Stripes produced 22 total shots, nine shots on target, both season-highs for the squad. The team’s expected goals for the match was 1.9, tied for the highest this season in a single match (the other 1.9xG game was the 3-1 win vs. Chicago on April 24). Valentino will continue to implore his team to take those risks and play the attractive, attacking style of soccer that fans of Atlanta United have become used to. If the team continues to take those risks and create chances (14 vs. Cincinnati is the second-most in a match this season), then Atlanta United has a good chance to pick up three points at home on Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. The match between Atlanta United and Columbus Crew will be nationally televised on ABC or fans can tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game on the radio to hear the action.