Capping off a busy week, Atlanta travels to Columbus for a crucial road match on Sunday afternoon. After a tough midweek loss at home to New York Red Bulls, Atlanta is looking to pick up three points to stay in the playoff mix. Columbus Crew sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and is pushing to make the top-four, which would give them a home match in the playoffs. With a victory in Columbus, Atlanta could climb to within one point of the playoff line pending other results this weekend. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Columbus Crew.
Stay switched on defensively in the opening minutes of the match
Atlanta United’s defense, whether set up in a four-man backline or five-man backline, needs to come out ready and focused from the opening whistle. The 5-Stripes have found themselves climbing uphill on too many occasions this season due to conceding early on in matches. Finding a rhythm and being solid defensively early in the match can be the foundation that the team can build on throughout the rest of the match.
Winning individual duels will also be key on Sunday. Atlanta ranks in the top-10 in MLS this season in duel success rate (51.9% - 7th) and will look to utilize that strength to its advantage against Columbus on Sunday. Atlanta’s record in MLS road matches at Columbus is a good one with three wins in five matches. Staying strong defensively will be one of the keys to victory on Sunday.
Be aware of Columbus’ attacking options
While the numbers, 32 goals in 24 matches, wouldn’t necessarily suggest that Columbus has one of the more dangerous attacks in MLS, the individual quality they possess is among the best. Summer signing Cucho Hernández, who joined from English side Watford, has been on a scoring spree since entering the league. His six goals in eight matches rank second on the team to Lucas Zelarayan’s eight goals. The Argentine-born midfielder has also provided a team-high 10 assists. Derrick Etienne has chipped in with five goals as well.
Atlanta’s defense will need to be aware of these attacking options. One of the other key areas of the pitch will be the midfield. Whichever team can set the tone and control the middle of the pitch will most likely find more success on Sunday.
Turn possession into more dangerous chances created
Atlanta United set a new season-high with 73.2% possession against the New York Red Bulls in midweek action. The 5-Stripes are also one of the league leaders in terms of key passes (276 – 1st), corners (155 – 1st) and total shots (379 – 2nd). One of the areas where the team has room for improvement is turning that possession and those chances into more clear-cut opportunities. According to Opta, Atlanta ranks 15th in “Big Chances Created” coming into this weekend. In order to pick up three points on the road, Atlanta will need to create and finish the big chances it creates.
Fans can tune-in nationally on FS1 on Sunday afternoon as Atlanta United travels to Columbus Crew at 5:30 p.m. ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream Sunday's match.