After a much-deserved weekend off, the Five Stripes kick off the home stretch of the regular season with their first of five matches in 15 days this weekend, hosting the Columbus Crew at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. ATL UTD are coming off an incredible August with seven wins and two trophies –– but are looking to bounce back after ending the month on a sour note in Philadelphia. But they know a win this weekend would officially seal their place in the postseason. Meanwhile the Crew are desperate for a win of their own to keep their slim playoff hopes alive in the East.
It all kicks off at 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports Southeast. If you can’t make it, click here for all the ways to tune in.
Atlanta United (15-10-3)
Atlanta United are coming off a weekend off for international play, some valuable time to recharge after an incredible August. But with other competitions in the rear-view mirror, all focus is on securing home-field advantage for the postseason that starts in less than a month. A win on Saturday would officially clinch their spot in postseason, so three points is certainly the mission this weekend.
The headline in the attack remains the unprecedented scoring streak of Josef Martinez, whose 13 straight matches with a goal has already shattered the old record of nine held by himself and Diego Valeri. But scoring is more than a one-man job, and the dynamic play of Pity Martínez and Ezequiel Barco zipping around the striker has been too much for defenses to handle. And those runs have opened up space for two match-changing players on the wings. Julian Gressel’s pinpoint crossing and tireless runs down the right wing have him leading the team in assists. And Justin Meram has brought a spark to the left since his midseason addition, proving to be a ruthless dribbler in one-on-one situations, all while providing excellent defensive cover in a previously-unfamiliar wingback role.
But Atlanta United’s incredible rise up the standings is equally thanks to a lockdown defense anchored by the league leader in clean sheets, Brad Guzan, who is only two shutouts away from the league record. Defense starts up front, and the pair of Eric Remedi and Darlington Nagbe have been exceptional at locking down the all-important middle of the park. Meanwhile the back line has been a steady rotation of Leandro González Pirez, Miles Robinson, Franco Escobar and Florentin Pogba. Robinson especially is putting together a case for the Defender of the Year award in the back line, that earned him his first call-up to the U.S. National Team over the weekend. In short, this is an Atlanta United side that is as deep as it’s ever been and is performing from front to back. With fresh legs ready for the final stretch, they’ll be confident against any team that comes to play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Columbus Crew (8-15-7)
Columbus sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, but with their backs against the wall in their hunt for a postseason berth, they’re a team that can’t be taken lightly.
Leading the line is a U.S. international in Gyasi Zardes, whose strong positional awareness and one-touch finishing has him leading the team with 11 goals so far this season. Meanwhile the creative spark behind him is often Pedro Santos, the Spanish speedster whose technique and acceleration on the ball can turn any possession into a counterattack. He’ll be looking to combine with two young, tricky wingers in Luis Argudo and Costa Rican midseason addition Luis Diaz to create chances for Zardes’ runs into the penalty box. And if the attack can’t get firing, there are options off the bench, including former Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union star David Accam, ready to bring plenty of pace of his own from the substitute role.
The attack is built on a strong foundation, including one of the most solid central midfield partnerships in the league. U.S. international Wil Trapp and Brazilian enforcer Artur bring strength and tactical discipline to the center, combined with an eye for a pass and a move forward into the attack. Behind them sit Jonathan Mensah and Alex Crognale, a powerful pair in the back line that bring strength and aerial prowess to set pieces, while Harrison Afful will be constantly looking to get forward from the right fullback position. Atlanta United fans will be happy to see the departure of Zack Steffen, the U.S. international that has proven a thorn in the Five Stripes’ side in the past, who left for Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf this season. But Columbus has a ready-made replacement in former PSV goalkeeper Eloy Room, who was signed after impressive showings in international play with his home country of Curaçao. In short: while their record may not show it, Columbus has players that can threaten any side. And with their postseason hopes hanging by a thread, Atlanta United fans can expect a motivated squad at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend.
With a win clinching a spot in the posteason –– and every point now crucial in Atlanta United’s quest for home-field advantage –– this is a match you certainly won’t want to miss. Click here to secure your spot, or if you can’t make it, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.