Atlanta United (5-6-3) return to the friendly confines of Bobby Dodd stadium this weekend to face the Columbus Crew (7-8-1) for the first time in league play. Columbus sit three places above Atlanta in this table, so it could be a good opportunity for the red, black, and gold to make up ground in the Eastern Conference standings. Here's what the Five Stripes nation can expect out of the opponents this weekend:
Columbus has been on the road eight times so far this season – winning two and losing six – and have conceded 17 teams in those games, both the third-most in the league. When that's expanded to the full season home and away, Columbus has 26 times in 16 games, also the third-most in the league. The road has been particularly harsh for Columbus recently: four straight losses with ten goals conceded and just two scored. Compare that to Atlanta's home record: three wins out of five games with more than 2.5 goals per game, the second-highest home scoring rate in the league. Atlanta is yet to lose a game in which they've scored two goals, so if both of those scoring rates hold up, the red, black and gold could get back to winning ways. Last time out, Columbus was up 1-0 against the Colorado Rapids in Denver before giving up two late goals. Both came from crosses; one on the ground tapped in by Kevin Doyle and one through the air headed over the line by Alan Gordon. Those quick switches of play could be a weak point Atlanta looks to attack this weekend.
The Attacking Trident
While Columbus can be leaky at the back, they do boast one of the most effective attacking trios in MLS. Winger Justin Meram and striker Ola Kamara have eight goals each so far this season, while Federico Higuain – brother of Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain – has added six from midfield. By comparison, Miguel Almirón, Atlanta's leading scorer has scored seven so far. Justin Meram is the one looking to beat a man with the ball at his feet; he has completed a league-high 40 dribbles this season and has attempted 96, 20 more than any other player in the league. Higuain isn't as dynamic or fast, but he pulls the strings with his veteran passing, while Ola Kamara combines speed with a effective finishing touch at the tip of the forward trident. The good news for Atlanta is captain Michael Parkhurst spent two seasons at Columbus before moving to the red, black and gold this year, so will know well what they are looking to do in attack. He was singled out for praise by his ex-teammates leading up to the game for having the speed and vision to shut down a speedy attack.
Possible Squad Rotation
Like Atlanta United, Columbus Crew are coming off a hard-fought midweek game in the U.S. Open Cup. In front of a record crowd at up-and-coming USL side FC Cincinnati's stadium, the Crew came up short in a 1-0 loss on the road. But what was maybe even more notable was Columbus's lineup, which included eight regular starters including star attackers Federico Higuain, Justin Meram and their team captain, center midfielder Wil Trapp. Unlike Atlanta, Columbus had a weekend off last weekend during the international break, so rest and rotation may not be as urgent. But there could be a rotation policy in place for Columbus at Bobby Dodd Stadium this weekend.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast and MLS Live. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.