The busy stretch for Columbus Crew SC comes to an end on Wednesday night when Atlanta United comes to MAPFRE Stadium. The Black & Gold enter this match on a nine-game unbeaten run, but it’s been since mid-May since Columbus has won a game. Crew SC has three straight draws in Major League Soccer play as well as the penalty kick shootout loss in the U.S. Open Cup to the Chicago Fire last Wednesday.
Despite not a lot of wins recently, the Black & Gold sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, only three points off the top spot in MLS. That spots belongs to Atlanta. United comes into this match with one win in the last four games, but the Five Stripes have only lost three times in 2018 and only once on the road.
Crew SC will get a boost in this contest with the return of midfield captain Wil Trapp and goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who are back from more than a week away with the U.S. National Team. Atlanta meanwhile could be without playmaker Miguel Almiron, who is dealing with a shoulder injury.
Following this match, the Black & Gold will be off for 10 days. Can Crew SC head into the World Cup break with a win and sitting at the top of the East? Let’s see what our staff thinks.
In case you haven’t heard, Atlanta United is a pretty good soccer team and Josef Martinez is a pretty good goal scorer. Atlanta is second in MLS in both expected goals for and against per game, trailing only Crew SC in the latter. The Black & Gold should get a boost from the return of Wil Trapp and Zack Steffen from National Team duty and the possible absence of Miguel Alrmiron for Atlanta due to injury. Red cards and/or penalty kicks seem to be abnormally common in games involving Atlanta, so be prepared for the unexpected in a game that could go either way. Nevertheless, I predict Crew SC will grind out a win, snapping the team’s three-game winless streak and extending its unbeaten streak to 10.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Atlanta United 1
Heading into the World Cup break on an unbeaten streak would be a huge confidence boost for a team already playing some inspired soccer. Still, a point, even at home, won’t come easily against an Atlanta team that Crew SC gave up five goals to last season. Aside from the incredible 0-0 playoff victory at Atlanta last season, Columbus has been terrible against the Five Stripes, getting thoroughly outclassed in both of last season’s regular season matches. This year’s Black & Gold side boasts a much improved defensive group, but Atlanta’s offense has gotten even better with the addition of Ezequiel Barco. Luckily, it looks like Atlanta will be without key attacker Miguel Almiron, while Crew SC should be near full strength for the first time since Pedro Santos’ red card against the Seattle Sounders.
Without Almiron, on the road, and a young team eager to take a two-week break, it seems like Columbus has caught United at exactly the right place to grab at least a point. My bet is on Atlanta playing a lackadaisical first half without Almiron and laying on some pressure in the second, but not in time to secure a victory.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Atlanta United 1
When the Crew meets Atlanta United, it will be MLS’s best defense (the Black & Gold, which conceded only 14 goals) facing the league’s best offense (the Five Stripes, with 31 goals scored). That alone should suggest that the visitors are the ones expected to dominate the game and push numbers forward, but I expect exactly the opposite, with Crew SC controlling possession and Atlanta exploring counter attacks.
United proved to be a tough matchup for Columbus last season, when it beat the Crew twice in regular season, but the scoreless draw and subsequent Black & Gold penalty kicks victory in the playoffs in Georgia changed the narrative a little bit. Also, Atlanta won’t have Greg Garza and might not have both Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba, making things easier for the Crew.
With both Josef Martínez and Gyasi Zardes, ranked first and second in the league’s scoring table, on the field, I anticipate goals and the Black & Gold remaining undefeated, but also failing to get a win again.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Atlanta United 2
I said before this recent home stand that we would learn a lot about Crew SC. I think we have. What I’ve gathered is that this is a good team, but not one of the elite groups in MLS. The fact that a depleted Toronto FC side was able to come to MAPRE Stadium and get a three-goal lead was concerning. Yes, the Black & Gold came back, but that was a little flukey. Once again on Saturday, Columbus couldn’t convert chances and it cost them.
In this match, I think there will be plenty of chances for Crew SC, as I don’t think Atlanta’s defense is very good. Yes, United will potentially be without multiple attacking options, but I think the Five Stripes have enough in the bank to cause the Black & Gold issues. Having Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp back will help, but I don’t think this is a positive result for the Columbus faithful.
Atlanta United 2 Columbus Crew SC 1
What a way to go into the World Cup break. These two teams have been two of the best in the Eastern Conference, play entertaining soccer and are in good runs of form. Atlanta is one of the few teams in MLS that are truly an intimidating matchup, simply because of its attacking explosiveness and ability to take advantage of the slightest mistake. Josef Martinez is a terror. If there is any good news for Columbus, it’s that Miguel Almiron might be out dealing with an injury. Barring that, I expect both sides will field full-strength squads ahead of a slight layoff.
Being at home should provide Crew SC with a boost, but I’m guessing ATLU will want some revenge for the way it’s season ended a year ago. It’s hard to ever feel great about a positive prediction against the Five Stripes, but they are not infallible. With Zack Steffen feeling confident after a USMNT call-up (and the same for Wil Trapp) plus the return of Pedro Santos (and he said he’s going to score, so who’s to doubt him?) I’ll say CCSC makes a statement on the eve of the World Cup (even if it is filled with anxious moments).
Columbus Crew 2 Atlanta United 1
Columbus Crew SC’s mini homestand is nearly at it’s end and what a matchup. Atlanta United provides another stern test to the team’s nine game unbeaten streak. It’s a list that includes ties against Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, and New York Red Bulls. Those are all very good teams, but Atlanta may be the best. They have a solid, overshadowed defense and a spectacular offense. This is a team that can score goals in a flash.
The job for Crew SC will be getting a little easier as Columbus is finally getting two key reinforcements back in Wil Trapp and Zack Steffen. They returned from international duty that forced them to miss the Toronto and Red Bull games. Jonathan Mensah and Pedro Santos should also be fully healthy. Gregg Berhalter can play his team without constraints. It’s a group that can match up with anyone, including high flying United.
Columbus Crew 2 Atlanta United 1
Do you think the Black & Gold can head into the World Cup break with a positive result? Let us know in the comment section below.