Tools to the Match: How Atlanta United earns a victory on road at Columbus

Atlanta United has reached Decision Day and has everything to play for when the 5-Stripes travel to Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. Atlanta needs a win and a little bit of help to secure one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. This match, along with every other Eastern Conference match on Sunday, kicks off at 3:30pm ET on Fox Sports Southeast. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.

Score the First Goal

It sounds simple, but it has proven to be crucial all season long. When Atlanta United scores the first goal in a match, the team is 6-0-0 this season. The team has not won a match in which it hasn’t grabbed the opening goal. Adam Jahn provided the spark last time out vs. Cincinnati, scoring in the eighth minute as the 5-Stripes cruised to a 2-0 victory. Getting a lead and then protecting that lead will be critical on Sunday against a strong Columbus side. 

Stop the Z’s in Columbus’ Attack

The Crew are battling for one of the top four spots in the Eastern Conference. They currently sit in fourth place, and getting a result for them is critical to maintain that spot. Forward Gyasi Zardes leads the team in goals with 11, which ranks him tied for second in MLS. Lucas Zelarayan, the team’s biggest offseason pickup, is one of the team’s most creative and attacking midfielders. He has five goals and four assists. If you add midfielder Pedro Santos’ production to that mix (six goals, eight assists) you can see why the Crew are in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams. 

Atlanta’s defense, which has been solid this season, will have its hands full with that attacking trio. The 5-Stripes have produced six clean sheets this year, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in MLS heading into Decision Day.

Win the Midfield Battle

One of the key areas on the pitch on Sunday will be the midfield. Atlanta United needs to control that area of the pitch to give itself a good chance to take home three points. Marcelino Moreno scored his first goal last week against Cincinnati and will be looking to carry that momentum over to Sunday’s contest. Emerson Hyndman, Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz all bring with them big match experience in the center of the pitch which will be needed on Decision Day. With an entire week of rest and preparation, while Columbus had to play in midweek on the road, Atlanta needs to take advantage of its fresh legs particularly in midfield to get on the front foot early.

Atlanta United needs a victory and some help to make the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. Tune in to the match on Sunday on Fox Sports Southeast as Atlanta United travels to Columbus with kickoff set for 3:30pm ET.