Atlanta United is back at home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night when they take on Columbus Crew in the final MLS match before the June international break. The 5-Stripes are coming off a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Nashville in a match that included a near 3-hour weather delay. Columbus suffered a 2-0 home defeat to LAFC last time out after facing more than four hours of weather delays. Atlanta enters the weekend with a 4-4-4 mark (16 points) in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, while Columbus sits in 12th place with a 3-5-4 (13 points) mark. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Columbus Crew.
Almada the Creator and Finisher
Thiago Almada, who signed this past offseason from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield, has found his groove in Atlanta’s attack. The attacking midfielder has taken advantage of the consistency in the attack over the last couple of matches. Alongside Marcelino Moreno, Luiz Araujo and Ronaldo Cisneros, the group has scored 10 goals in its last four matches. Last weekend, Almada scored a goal and recorded an assist on the game-tying goal to earn MLS Team of the Week honors for the second time this year. He created two chances, won back possession seven times and led the team with 19 passes in the final third. It marked the third-consecutive match across all competitions with a goal for Almada. Continuing to get Almada in those advantageous positions in the attack will be key for Atlanta to earn three points on Saturday.
Contain Zelarayan and Etienne for Columbus
While Columbus may sit in 12th place currently in the Eastern Conference, they are only two years removed from winning MLS Cup. Armenian midfielder Lucas Zelarayan has been an influential player since joining Columbus. This season is no different as he leads the Crew with four goals and three assists. Zelarayan is a creative midfielder, almost a throwback old-school No. 10 who likes to operate underneath the striker. It will be important for Atlanta’s backline and defensive midfield to close down Zelarayan and not give him the freedom to pick out passes.
Another player to keep an eye on is Derrick Etienne who ranks second on the Crew in goals (3) and leads the team in assists with four. He scored three goals in the three previous seasons combined, so Etienne will come into Mercedes-Benz Stadium full of confidence. Atlanta’s fullbacks will be tasked with containing the dangerous winger.
Turning Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a fortress
It’s no secret that Mercedes-Benz Stadium provides the best home field advantage across MLS. Atlanta United continues to lead the league in average attendance, which the team has led every season since joining MLS.
Dating back to last season, the 5-Stripes are unbeaten at home in 13 consecutive matches. Atlanta has scored 14 of its 19 goals in MLS this season at home, including six goals in its last two home matches. The team will look once again for the attack to fire on all cylinders to pick up three key points at home against Columbus on Saturday.
Fans can tune in locally on Bally Sports South on Saturday night with kickoff set for 7:00pm ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream the match.