180216_Columbus_MatchPreview

Match Preview: Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew

After the Five Stripes took the field for the first time this year and earned a 3-1 friendly victory in Nashville last weekend, Atlanta United will now head to Charleston, SC to compete in the Carolina Challenge Cup (CCC). This will be the second consecutive year that the club has participated in the preseason tournament held by USL side Charleston Battery. ATL UTD will begin the tournament by facing their last opponent from the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs and reigning CCC champions – the Columbus Crew.

The match kicks off at 5:00 p.m. ET at MUSC Health Stadium and will be broadcast on beIN SPORTS. It will also be streamed online, so make sure to tune in and watch at ATLUTD.com/LIVE.

Atlanta United

After an explosive inaugural season in Major League Soccer, Atlanta United heads into chapter two with a chip on their shoulder after falling in dramatic fashion via penalties in their first-ever playoff match. Now, with a year under their belt and some reinforcements added in the offseason, ATL UTD hopes to emerge in 2018 even stronger than before. A win in Nashville was a good start, but three more preseason contests remain.

Returning from last season and headlining the Atlanta United attack are two members of the 2017 MLS Best XI, forward Josef Martinez and midfield maestro Miguel Almirón – who also earned the title of MLS Newcomer of the Year. However, some new faces impressed in their Five Stripe debut in Nashville including U.S. international Darlington Nagbe who seamlessly plugged into the midfield, constantly on the ball and distributing. In addition, the much-anticipated appearance of 18-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco – the league’s all-time record signing – was nothing short of brilliant. Despite the drenched pitch, Barco managed to find space, display his skill on the ball and penetrate the Nashville back line, proving pivotal in almost all of Atlanta’s chances while he was on the field.

While their prowess in the final third dominated the headlines in 2017, their performance on the other side of the ball impressed as the season went on. Atlanta recorded eight clean sheets in their last eleven matches and boasted a +30 goal differential during the regular season, ranking fourth-best all-time in MLS.

Columbus Crew

Though it was just four months ago that Columbus last faced Atlanta, the Crew have a new look for 2018, particularly in the attack. While they added U.S international forward Gyasi Zardes from the LA Galaxy and Mike Grella, this offseason also saw the loss of leading scorer Ola Kamara to the Galaxy and long-time midfielder creator Justin Meram to Orlando City. With two key pieces from their last few seasons now gone, the Crew will have to adapt to new personnel who will have some big shoes to fill.

However, even with the losses, the Crew can be confident as they still have Argentine DP Federico Higuain at the helm, Will Trapp sporting the captain’s armband and Zack Steffen in goal – the GK who proved to be quite the nuisance for the high-flying Atlanta front line and was nearly unbeatable in the penalty shootout. Atlanta will also need to watch out for Pedro Santos, who added a spark to the wing in their playoff run last season. Meanwhile, head coach Tata Martino and new Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar will know one of their new additions well, with left back Milton Valenzuela joining the club from Newells Old Boys this offseason.

Columbus enter the match coming off a strong showing at the Pacific Rim Cup where they finished with a 1-1-0 record while recording seven goals. The Crew will look to build on their preseason success thus far as they attempt to defend their CCC crown this week, starting with ATL UTD on Saturday.

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