We are down to the final two regular season matches for Atlanta United and it’s all about playoff seeding now. The 5-Stripes know they will be among the top-seven teams in the Eastern Conference, but where they end up is still up in the air. To keep the chances of a top-four finish alive, Saturday is a must-win match against Columbus, which sits in fourth place. Atlanta trails the Crew by four points with two matches remaining. Saturday’s matchup features the two highest scoring teams in MLS coming into this weekend. Columbus is coming off a crucial road win at New England, while Atlanta fell to Philadelphia in midweek action after a spirited second-half comeback attempt. Both teams like to play attractive, attacking soccer, so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Columbus Crew.
Continue to build off second-half performance in Philadelphia
After trailing 3-0 at halftime on Wednesday, Atlanta came out on fire and got back into the match against a good Philadelphia side. The team created numerous scoring chances and nearly came all the way to secure a road point. They had 60% possession in the second half, had 21 touches in the opponents box and 100 passes in the final third to really pin the Union back. Atlanta needs that same kind of production for a full 90 minutes on Saturday against Columbus. Especially at home, where Atlanta is 10-3-3 (W-L-T) this season in MLS play, the 5-Stripes need to pin the Crew back and create scoring opportunities from the jump.
The first goal could prove critical in this match. Eleven of Atlanta’s 13 wins this year have come after scoring the first goal, while 14 of Columbus’ 15 wins on the year have come after finding the back of the net first. If Atlanta can dominate early and score first, that would go a long way to securing three points.
Contain Cucho, Rossi and the rest of Columbus’ high flying attack
Columbus is sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference currently thanks in part to its new attacking style of play under first year coach Wilfried Nancy. The former CF Montreal head coach implemented a clear style and formation and the team has delivered. The Crew have scored 64 goals already this season, compared to just 46 in each of the past two seasons. The star of that attack is Cucho Hernandez. The Colombian striker has 14 goals and 11 assists this season to lead the Crew in both categories. He’s a mobile striker who likes to link up play and roam all over the field.
In the summer window, the Crew added another familiar face in attack in Diego Rossi. The former LAFC star has made an impact with six goal contributions in just seven starts. His creativity and link up play make him one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the league. Atlanta’s defense will have to be switched on at all times, have good communication and close down the passing lanes and shooting spaces in and around the box. Putting together a complete game defensively would go a long way to keeping three points at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Keep creating clear-cut scoring opportunities
Atlanta has done a good job of creating and converting high-quality scoring chances this season. Overall, the team has created 52 big chances according to Opta, which is just two behind last year’s total with a couple of matches to go. Where there has been a big improvement this year compared to last year is in the conversion rate of those big chances. Last season, Atlanta scored on 27 out of 54 big chances (39.7% conversion). This season, the team has converted 38 out of 52 big scoring chances (55.9% conversion). That mark is only 0.4% lower than the club’s all-time high for big chance conversion set back in 2017. If Atlanta can continue to create and convert clear-cut scoring opportunities in this match, then the three points will stay at home. This will be a statistic to keep an eye on come playoff time as well, when teams may only get one or two clear scoring opportunities.
Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app on Saturday night at 7:30pm ET when the action kicks off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).