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Match Preview: Columbus Crew vs Atlanta United

Days after becoming the first team to take a result away from Yankee Stadium this year, Atlanta United (9-3-3) face another stiff challenge Wednesday against the Columbus Crew (7-6-3). The Crew sit just three points back in third place in the Eastern Conference, and although the Five Stripes have won two out of three meetings between the clubs, they’ll be looking for a bit of revenge after last year’s playoff penalty shootout.

It’s two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and one of the biggest challenges in the regular season schedule, so it’ll be a match you won’t want to miss. It kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EST on FOX Sports South and FOX Sports GO. Click here for all the details on how to follow along with the match.

Columbus Crew (7-6-3)

The Crew are on a strong run of form and with 11 wins in their last 16 league home games, boast one of the best home-field records in the league. Recently that’s been down to the fine form of the back line, who have conceded just seven goals in their current nine-match unbeaten run. Harrison Afful and young DP signing Milton Valenzuela are capable going forward as well as defending from the fullback positions. Meanwhile, Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar have a strong understanding in the center of their back line, and waiting behind them is U.S. international Zack Steffen in goal. It’s no wonder that they are tied for the fewest goals conceded in the league, at just 14 this year.

But one of the stories of the young MLS season is the play of Gyasi Zardes, who at 10 goals sits in second place in the Golden Boot standings, just three goals behind Atlanta’s Josef Martinez. He’s been a poacher –– as one of only three players in MLS with 20 or more shots from inside the box, he’s tasked with pouncing on chances created by Federico Higuain, Pedro Santos and Mike Grella. But it’s Higuain who dictates the Columbus offense, one of just three active players to have more than 50 goals and 50 assists earlier this year. Between U.S. international Wil Trapp, Artur and Mohammed Abu, they have a strong central midfield, capable of balancing out their creative force. And Christian Ramirez has added a little dynamism to the attacking core as well.

Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s team is deep with talent, hungry for the number one spot, and has a red-hot striker up top. They will certainly present a stern challenge on Wednesday night for the Five Stripes.

Atlanta United (9-3-3)

Atlanta United comes into the match as the best road team in MLS so far this year, with a 4-1-2 record away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They’re unbeaten in their last six road matches, outscoring their opponents 8-3 in that stretch and this weekend, became the first team in the league to take points away from Yankee Stadium in 2018.

That record is due in no small part right now to the prolific scoring rate of Josef Martinez, who sits atop the Golden Boot race with 13 goals in just 15 matches so far this year. 32 MLS starts, 32 goals now for the Venezuelan, and with five goals in his last three matches, he’s proving unstoppable for some of MLS’ best defenses. It’s unclear whether Miguel Almirón will be available after being subbed off at halftime against NYCFC with a shoulder injury, with the Paraguayan listed as day-to-day. But with Ezequiel Barco, Julian Gressel, Romario Williams, and Tito Villalba –– who Martino confirms is available for selection after returning from injury –– the manager has plenty of attacking tools at his disposal.

In the back is a defensive unit that, despite conceding only once in a tough road environment over the weekend, were open about their desire to improve on the performance against NYCFC. But while the Five Stripe back line may have given up chances, Brad Guzan was ready for his moment to stand tall. His nine saves on the match were a franchise record for Atlanta United and good enough to earn him a spot in the MLS Team of the Week. While you don’t want to force your goalkeeper into heroics, this defensive unit finished with the third-fewest goals conceded in the league last year, and will be confident they can get back to their dominant best.

Make sure to tune in as Atlanta United and the Columbus Crew fight for Eastern Conference bragging rights and under the lights at MAPRE Stadium – a showdown of the top two scorers in the league this year. Make sure you tune in on FOX Sports South for the 7:30 p.m. EST kickoff. For all the other ways to follow the match, click here.

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