If a rivalry can develop between two teams after just one year, Columbus Crew SC and Atlanta United may have started one last season. The second-year Major League Soccer club defeated Crew SC by a combined 5-1 scoreline in the two regular season meetings last year, but the Black & Gold got the best of the the Five Stripes when it matter most in the MLS Cup playoffs, winning on penalty kicks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
While there’s not much history, these two teams play similar styles and are battling for the top of the Eastern Conference in 2018. United currently sit at the top of the East on 30 points with Columbus just three points back. Wednesday night’s game could potentially determine who will go into the World Cup break at the top of the conference.
Questions for Dirty South Soccer
Massive Report: Obviously Atlanta was a good team and fun to watch last year, but this season we’re talking potential Supporter’s Shield if the first third of the year is any indication. What has changed for the Five Stripes this season to help propel the team to the top of MLS so far?
Dirty South Soccer: Atlanta has found other ways to win matches other than just hoping to score 4-5 goals like the case seemed to be last season. I’m not saying that’s a bad strategy if you have the players to do so (and if any team can do it, it’s probably Atlanta), but in MLS, it’s hard to do that on the road. However, Atlanta has earned 14 points in 7 away matches this season, only losing their road opener. That’s the best ratio of any team. Atlanta wasn’t winning too many of these matches in 2017.
Also, through 15 matches, Tata Martino’s switch to a 3-5-2 has made Atlanta more productive in defense and attack in terms of goals conceded and goals scored than last season. It’s nice to know we can utilize a 3-5-2 while still having our classic 4-3-3 in the back of our pocket.
MR: The two big offseason additions for United were the big-money deal for Ezequiel Barco and the trade for Darlington Nagbe. How are these two performing so far in their first season with the club?
DSS: Barco definitely showed flashes of his quality over the past few matches. It’s clear that he’s good on the ball, is unafraid to take on opposing defenders, and can finish as well as any player on the team after his quality goals against Chicago and Orlando.
The one criticism is he’s a bit turnover prone, but it’s important to remember that this is in fact a 19-year-old still learning how to play in a new system. I’m personally considering this season as more of a test run for him just because I think his best is yet to come. I think he will flourish next season and really start to warrant his huge price tag.
As for Nagbe, he’s being asked to drop back and defend far more often than he ever was with Portland and be an outlet in midfield for defenders that are being pressed. This was the biggest cause for concern when his signing was announced. However, he’s adjusted very well to what’s being asked of him so far.
MR: The big news this week seems to be surrounding Miguel Almiron and his injury that might see him miss this match. What is he dealing with and what’s the latest on his prognosis? Is it worth playing him and risking something further with the World Cup break following this game?
DSS: He suffered a shoulder injury against NYCFC last Saturday and was subbed off at halftime. Martino officially listed Almiron as questionable for Wednesday. From what I saw from Almiron at training this week, he appears to be OK. Martino did mention that he expects to have him back against the Chicago Fire in US Open Cup action on June 20 at the latest, but the question still remains if you risk re-aggravating the injury for what’s ultimately just one regular season match.
To read Massive Report’s answers to Dirty South Soccer’s questions, check out their Three Questions piece.