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Massive Scouting Report: Atlanta United

The Black & Gold head back down south for an Eastern Conference battle

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for Columbus Crew SC to head back south to Atlanta, Georgia, to take on the Five Stripes of Atlanta United. Sunday’s match marks the first time that the Black & Gold return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium since a dramatic penalty kick shootout win against United in the MLS Cup playoffs last October. Columbus come into this match riding a wave of momentum, winning at the death last week against the Houston Dynamo. Forward Gyasi Zardes found the back of the net after what some deemed a controversial play in stoppage time and the Black & Gold claimed all three points.

The Five Stripes last played on Aug. 4, earning a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC. Atlanta are unbeaten in the team’s last five matches. Forward Josef Martinez’s impressive form has many Major League Soccer pundits feeling United can win it all this season. Can Crew SC end Atlanta’s magic or will Tata Martino conjure up the perfect game plan to stop the Black & Gold attack again?

Atlanta at a glance

Form: D-W-W-D

Leading Scorer: Josef Martinez (26)

Assists Leader: Miguel Almiron (11)

A-T-L

Crew SC return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time since that incredible encounter last October during the MLS Cup playoffs. The Black & Gold defeated the Five Stripes on penalties, but it was also a symbolic match for Crew SC. The Black & Gold played the game with a chip on its collective shoulder during the knockout round match with Atlanta after investor-operator Anthony Precourt announced the possibility of relocating the team to Austin, Texas. With the announcement coming out of Austin on Wednesday that PSV was approved to negotiate a stadium, it will be intriguing to see how Crew SC responds under similar circumstances.

Josef Martinez

The Venezuelan striker has been on an absolute tear this season. Martinez looks poised to break all sorts of MLS scoring records. To put things into perspective, New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips was seen as legendary for collecting 27 goals during the 2014 season, tying the MLS mark with Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski.

Martinez stands at 26 goals and Atlanta has a considerable amount of games to go in its season. It appears likely that Martinez will break the MLS record. However, should Martinez become injured or neutralized the Five Stripes will be looking for other offensive production.

Almiron, Julian Gressel and Hector Villalba have combine for just 13 goals for Atlanta, that’s half of the total production just from Martinez. The numbers support one solution, take Martinez out of the equation and your chances of winning drastically improve.

How Crew SC win

“If you cut off the head of a snake, the body will die.” It an old saying with a lot of meaning for Crew SC this week. The Black & Gold need to limit chances to Martinez ad he accounts for 52 percent of the Five Stripes goals. Crew SC must limit service to the Venezuelan and not engage him in a foot race. Columbus doesn’t have a center back that can hang with the striker.

Atlanta aren’t a great team on defense and it starts at the back. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan benefits from a good attacking side in front of him, but the fact is he is susceptible to conceding. It will be intriguing to see if the return of Justin Meram could cause trouble for the Five Stripes with the return of an attacking presence on the left side of the pitch.