Match Preview: Atlanta United at Columbus Crew

The international break is over and the Five Stripes are back in action this weekend, hungry to get their first win of the season as they travel to Columbus to face the Crew. Atlanta United are 2-0-0 all time at MAPFRE Stadium and will be hoping to keep previous seasons’ form alive against a new-look side in the Crew.

The two Eastern Conference sides will kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, March 30th. Click here for all the information on how to tune in to the match.

Atlanta United (0-1-2)

Atlanta United have gotten off to a slow start by their lofty standards and are still looking for their first three-point performance in the league this season. But after a hectic stretch of games to kick off the year, they’ll be refreshed and ready to take advantage of their only match in a three-week span.

While they haven’t been at their high-flying best, Josef Martinez is still proving he can put the ball in the back of the net with four goals in seven games so far in 2019. Meanwhile Julian Gressel continues to rack up the assists, with two more to start the year to hit 25 in his career –– becoming the fourth-fastest active player to hit that mark. With the status of Pity Martinez still up in the air after his injury on international duty, his possible replacement in the starting lineup, Tito Villalba, has scored three of the four goals in Atlanta United history at MAPFRE Staidum. With Barco showing his impact with a stunning header last match, the Five Stripes have the weapons to get this attack revving into high gear.

In the back, Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer has another option at his disposal with Franco Escobar returning to full training over the international break. The Argentine was one of Atlanta United’s most impactful players in last year’s postseason run and adds different tactical possibilities to De Boer’s arsenal of defending options. With Miles Robinson’s stunning performances so far and the anchors of last year’s title-winning back line available, it gives Frank de Boer the best kind of selection headache with a new face at his disposal.

Columbus Crew (2-1-1)

The Columbus Crew have gotten off to a strong start, entering the first international break in third place in the Eastern Conference. The perennial contenders have returned much of the same core as last year’s side and have the potential to be challenging into the postseason again this year.

Last year was all about Gyasi Zardes, who revitalized his career with 19 goals from the striker position and earned his spot back on the U.S. Men’s National Team roster. The American’s movement and killer finishing skills have proven to be a great foil for Federico Higuain, who remains the creative hub for the team in the center of the park. Meanwhile, Justin Meram is coming off a strong international break for Iraq and Pedro Santos has shown his electric talents on the opposite flank already this season, so there is plenty for the Atlanta United defenders to think about as they hit the road looking for a win in Ohio.

But to get a clean sheet, their main threat is arguably in the Crew backline. Argentine center back Gaston Sauro has two goals already through four matches and is proving to be one of the premier set piece threats in MLS so far this season. He forms a strong partnership with Jonathan Mensah in the middle protecting Zack Steffen, who’s still performing at a high level in goal before he heads off to the reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City, this summer. And finally, Atlanta United will have to keep an eye out for Harrison Afful on the right flank, one of the best attacking fullbacks in the league. If they can limit his contributions on the attacking side and get into the space behind him on the counter attack when he presses forward, Atlanta United may have a way to get through the Crew defense.

Follow along:

Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on FOX Sports South and FOX Sports Go. You can also listen in on 92.9 The Game or the Atlanta United App. Click here for everything you need to know about how to follow the match.