Tools to the Match

Tools to the Match: How Atlanta United defeats Columbus to avoid elimination 


The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday night for Atlanta United as the 5-Stripes face an elimination match at home against the Columbus Crew. Atlanta dropped the first game of this Best-of-3 series on the road 2-0, but it gets another chance on Tuesday to extend its season. Only a win, whether in regulation or in the penalty kick shootout, will help Atlanta move this series to a decisive Game 3 on the weekend. In this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs, there is no aggregate scoring, so the margin of victory is not a factor for Atlanta United. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Columbus Crew.

Make the HOME field advantage count

It’s no secret that Atlanta United, like nearly every team in MLS, has a better record at home versus on the road. This season was no different. Atlanta finished the campaign with a 10-3-4 (W-L-T) record at home, while picking up three wins on the road. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of the most intimidating atmospheres in MLS for opposing teams to come to. Not only does Atlanta create more chances overall at home, they also are creating more Big Chances at home this season. They have averaged 2.0 Big Chances/home match this year. And with the clinical finishing of Giorgos Giakoumakis up top, they haven’t needed a lot of chances to score goals. The 5-Stripes will need to be on the front foot early to get the raucous crowd behind them and become that 12th man and urge the team on to victory on Tuesday. When Atlanta leads teams at halftime this season, the 5-Stripes are 10-1-1 on the campaign.

Don’t allow Columbus’ midfield to dictate the tempo of the match

While Columbus has many flashy pieces in attack like Cucho Hernandez or Diego Rossi, it’s the team’s midfield that more often than not dictates the tempo and outcomes of matches for Wilfried Nancy’s side. The combination of Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris has meshed extremely well for Columbus, and those two have the ability, awareness and soccer IQ to dictate when the Crew push in transition and when to just sit on the ball and control possession. Both of them are very good tacklers, so they can start transition moments quickly when they regain possession in midfield. Both are extremely accurate passers as well this season. Morris sits at 92.5% passing accuracy, while Nagbe comes in even higher at 93.6%. That type of accuracy makes it difficult to win the ball back once they control the midfield.

Atlanta’s midfield will receive a boost from the return of Thiago Almada, but they will have to win the battle on Tuesday night against one of the top midfield combinations in the league.

Biggest players need to show up in biggest moments

The playoffs and these type of win-or-go-home matches are pressure packed moments. That’s when your biggest stars need to rise to the occasion. Atlanta features two of the top players in the league, the 2023 MLS Newcomer of the Year in Giorgos Giakoumakis and the 2023 MLS Young Player of the Year in Thiago Almada. The Argentine, who was suspended for Game 1, led the league with 19 assists on the year. The team has a higher goals/match (1.7 vs. 1.3), shots/match (14.9 vs. 10.0) and more passes into the Final third (51.4 vs. 48.9) with Almada compared to when the midfielder doesn’t play. And his link up play with Giakoumakis has been evident all year. Of his 19 assists, seven have been on goals scored by Giakoumakis. If both of them can get on the same page on multiple occasions on Tuesday, then Atlanta has a great chance to score multiple goals and extend this series.

Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app on Tuesday night at 7:00pm ET when the action kicks off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia for Game 2 of the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One Best-of-3 series. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game and Sirius XM FC (English) or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).

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