A disappointing night with some promising signs for Atlanta United, as the Five Stripes fell 3-1 to the Columbus Crew at the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston Saturday.
Tata Martino made one change from the lineup that started the last match against Nashville SC, with Mikey Ambrose coming into the squad for Greg Garza at left back. The full starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Mikey Ambrose (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Jeff Larentowicz (CB), Sal Zizzo (RB), Chris McCann (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Ezequiel Barco (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Julian Gressel (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
The opening minutes began largely in Atlanta’s favor, with the squad –– donning the new King Peach kit for the first time –– dominating possession. But they were unable to penetrate a resolute Columbus backline and the Crew made them pay in the 13th minute. Federico Higuain received the ball just outside the 18 yard box and played an incisive reverse pass into the path of Pedro Santos, who took one touch and powered a low shot inside the far corner.
Atlanta again showed nice signs of possession but failed to create many chances. And with the team pushing high for a corner kick, a counter attack from Columbus doubled the deficit with Cristian Martinez lobbing a long-range chip shot over the outstretched hand of Brad Guzan. The night got worse just after the halftime whistle as Josef Martinez rose highest to defend a corner kick in his own box, only for the ball to glance off his head and inside his own goal for the 3-0 scoreline.
That’s not to say there were no positive signs for Atlanta United fans in Charleston Saturday. MLS SuperDraft pick Oliver Shannon took another chance to show his coaches what he could do, putting in a solid, assured performance in the center of the field for the better part of a half hour. Andrew Carleton, the club’s first homegrown, showed flashes of brilliance in a short cameo, including a nice move inside the box and a ball that ricocheted off the Columbus goal post.
And Atlanta United fans got to see a welcome, familiar sight just before the full-time whistle: a trademark Josef Martinez/Miguel Almirón combination for a consolation. The Venezuelan striker received the ball just outside the opponent’s penalty box and slipped a nice short pass into the path of Almirón, whose touch was perfect to take the ball past the Crew defender and curled a cool finish around Zach Steffen.
In all, it was a night that the Atlanta United players can use for motivation going into the regular season, and a good chance for Tata Martino to learn more about his team and make adjustments to an undoubtedly talented side as they continue preparing through the preseason.
The red, black and gold will start their MLS regular season on the road against the Houston Dynamo before returning to Atlanta for their home debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 11th against D.C. United. Tickets to that match are still available, make sure you’ve reserved your spot here.