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What We Learned: Crew vs. Atlanta United

The Black & Gold returned to winning ways against the defending champions at extreme conditions.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC used home-field advantage to down reigning MLS Cup winners Atlanta United 2-0 and bounce back from last week’s setback against the Philadelphia Union.

It was a very peculiar night at MAPFRE Stadium as the match was interrupted at the 31st minute due to inclement weather and resumed just 58 minutes later. Conditions were far from ideal, however, and the quality of the game was severely impacted from that point on.

However, even with very limited real playing time, it was still possible to draw some conclusion from the match.

Playing in a swamp can be difficult

The major storylines of the match undoubtedly revolved around the terrible conditions on the usually great pitch of MAPFRE Stadium. With Columbus being hit by a torrential downpour during the match, several spots of standing water turned the field in an almost unplayable surface.

Passing the ball was a tough task for two of the best teams in the entire league in that category. Just as a point for comparison, the Crew held an 82.5 percent passing accuracy over the first four matches of the season. Against Atlanta, their rating dropped to 67 percent.

Dribbling the ball wasn’t easy either. At a certain point of the first half, winger Pedro Santos juggled the ball for about 15 yards in an attempt to push forward.

No one can impact a game like Zack Steffen

After conceding three goals and making a lot of individual mistakes against the Union last week, the Crew’s defense bounced back in great fashion by holding the MLS Cup winners and its powerful offense scoreless for the entire 90 minutes.

That wouldn’t probably be accomplished without goalkeeper Zack Steffen though. The starting goalkeeper returned to the lineup after missing last game because of a minor knee injury and showed why he’s essential to the team’s success.

Steffen, who had three clean sheets in four games this season, was pivotal in preserving the Crew’s lead when the score was just 1-0 as he stopped both a header from Julian Gressel and a point-blank shot of Ezequiel Barco to keep the Black & Gold ahead in the score.

Wingers production = Crew wins

Getting reliable production from its wingers has been a hot topic for the Crew in the recent past and it seems that anytime head coach Caleb Porter can squeeze something out of them this team is really hard to beat.

That was the case against Atlanta as, while the field preserved minimal playing conditions, both Pedro Santos and Robinho managed to help the team consistently. The Portuguese winger scored an early goal and helped the team to create chances while the Brazilian recorded his first assist for the club and was a threat to Atlanta’s backline for most of the match.

Talent, however, has never been the problem as Santos, Justin Meram and Robinho (to a minor extent) have all shown they can produce. Consistency, however, hasn’t always been there, especially with the two veterans. If Porter can fix that for once, this team can be really dangerous.

Williams is the first option at the back

The Crew’s depth at the center back position was another hot topic in offseason as the club entered the year with five viable starters and added another interesting piece in Homegrown player Aboubacar Keita.

Porter’s preferences were revealed week after week as the head coach selected Jonathan Mensah and Gaston Sauro as this starting tandem. After that, Alex Crognale and Keita were both loaned out, leaving Lalas Abubakar and Josh Williams as the immediate backup options.

Sauro got sick and couldn’t play this week, which forced Porter into a decision and he went with Williams, showing the veteran is his primary option behind the starters. That should send a message to Abubakar, who had as many as 20 starts in 2018, but just one over the last 10 matches, in a game in which he was subbed off early in the second half.