Tools to the Match

Tools to the Match: How Atlanta United wins decisive Game 3 in Columbus 


The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One Best-of-3 series between Atlanta United and Columbus Crew has lived up to expectations through the first two contests. The two highest scoring teams during the MLS Regular Season have delivered goals galore as the series sits tied 1-1 on games, and 4-4 in goals scored. The third and decisive Game 3 in the series will be played on Sunday night at Field in Columbus. The match could be decided in 90 minutes or decided through a penalty shootout. A reminder that all matches in Round One of this year’s playoffs head straight to a shootout should the score be tied after regulation time. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Columbus Crew.

Carry over attacking momentum into Sunday

Game 2 of this first round series saw a much improved Atlanta attack. Whether it was the return of the 2023 MLS Young Player of the Year in Thiago Almada to the starting lineup, or three different wingers contributing goals and assists in attack, Atlanta looked like a different team compared to Game 1 of the series. The team produced a playoff club record four goals and six assists in Game 2. The team created several scoring chances and took apart Columbus’ defense in the second half with speed and precision in the final third. 

If Atlanta can carry over that attacking momentum into Sunday’s match, the team will feel confident in advancing to the next round of the playoffs.   

Stay compact defensively to contain Cucho Hernandez and rest of Columbus’ attack

Columbus’ main man up top, Colombian Cucho Hernandez, has already shown his scoring prowess in both matches of this first round series. Cucho scored a brace in Game 1 and then equalized the score at 1-1 in Game 2. After scoring 16 goals during the regular season, he sits atop the scoring charts in the playoffs with those three goals. His combination play with Diego Rossi and Alex Matan in the middle of the park can cause any defense problems. He also has an excellent understanding of how to time his runs on crosses from wide areas, making him one of the more complete strikers in MLS. Atlanta’s defense will need to stay compact for the full 90 minutes on Sunday and limit the scoring opportunities that Cucho is looking for. 

If Atlanta’s backline and defensive midfield can continue to disrupt Columbus’ attacking flow and make it difficult to supply Cucho with scoring chances, that would be a major key to victory on Sunday.  

Overcome adversity or negative plays and bounce back quickly

The playoffs in MLS are never an easy, straight-forward path to glory. There will be moments of adversity that every team has to overcome. Atlanta did a good job of bouncing back from those moments of adversity in Game 2. Following Columbus’ first goal of the match, Atlanta did a good job of not hanging their heads and continued to press for a goal before halftime and were rewarded for that aggressive play with Xande Silva’s goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Throughout the match, the 5-Stripes were able to overcome those adverse moments and get back on the front foot and secure the win. It will take a similar effort on Sunday to secure the road win and advance in these playoffs. Atlanta needs to maintain its focus and aggressiveness throughout the 90 minutes. Only a win counts on Sunday night. 

Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app on Sunday night at 7:00pm ET when the action kicks off at Field in Columbus, Ohio for Game 3 of the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One Best-of-3 series. To hear the action on radio, tune into STAR 94 FM (English) or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).

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