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Massive Predictions: Crew vs. Atlanta United

The Black & Gold have reached the final MLS is Back group game.

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC has thus far navigated Group E of the MLS is Back Tournament to near perfection. After convincing wins against FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls, the Crew has one game left with the knockout rounds secured.

On Tuesday night, the Black & Gold face Atlanta United, a side surprisingly struggling through the group stage. With a win — and even several other results — Columbus will win Group E and move on to the knockout rounds with confidence. Atlanta, meanwhile, needs a big result or else the team’s MLS is Back Tournament comes to an early end.

We asked our staff for their thoughts on this game and to give us their predictions.

Patrick Murphy

The third game of the MLS is Back Tournament is the hardest to predict for the Crew. With passage to the knockout rounds secure, does Caleb Porter elect to put out another strong lineup, given what is available, or get some of his key pieces rest? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, as it was against the Red Bulls, due to this game counting toward the regular season standings.

I think we will see changes for the Black & Gold once again. I also think you see a more inspired Atlanta team than in the first two games. I still don’t see much offensively for United given the lack of the injured Josef Martinez, but I think the Crew come back to Earth a bit in this one before having to turn things back up in the knockout rounds.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 1

Thomas Costello

Columbus Crew SC has had two strong results to start the tournament, but I think Atlanta United will be tricky. Atlanta is in a rough spot in the table, Tuesday is likely the team’s final match of the tournament and United has something to prove. With Columbus in the drivers’ seat for winning the group, and with a few starters getting knocks in the last match, I don’t see it as a predictable lineup. The Crew will still get a victory, but not as decisive as the first two. Fanendo Adi scores his first Columbus goal but Atlanta continues its rough offensive form.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 0

David Lewis

Before the tournament started, I was excited about this match. Then I saw Atlanta play. They are a mess under Frank de Boer and without Josef Martinez. United lost to a pitiful FC Cincinnati team, albeit going down to nine men, but still, c’mom. The Black & Gold are flying after beating a strong New York Red Bulls team. Their depth and quality was on fine display. Darlington Nagbe will want to shine against his former club. I don’t see Columbus taking Atlanta lightly because Caleb Porter won’t allow it.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 0

Orri Benatar

With Caleb Porter set on getting nine points in this group, I think the Crew will. Defensively the team has been magnificent with no open play goals conceded yet in 2020 and that should continue against a side whose attack looks uninspiring without Josef Martinez. Darlington Nagbe should continue his midfield dominance, especially against his old team. Columbus also looks creative in attack with whoever is on the pitch, so even with some more squad rotation, the Crew should be able to take advantage of Atlanta’s defense. A perfect group stage for the Black & Gold to make them a favorite to win the MLS is Back Tournament.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 0

Dave Hageman

Atlanta has been terrible. The Crew have been outstanding. But this tournament has been crazy and Columbus doesn’t need a win to advance. I can see Caleb Porter resting some guys and the Crew coming out on the losing end to the Five Stripes.
Atlanta United 2 Columbus Crew 1

Andrew Atkins

The Columbus Crew is in top form, with the best-assembled roster the Black & Gold have seen since the 2015 MLS Cup contender days. In stark contrast to that is Atlanta United. Since the MLS is Back Tournament started, Atlanta find itself without a single goal, without a win and without a spot in the Round of 16.

This is MLS, and there is no such thing as a sure thing in this league. However, it’s hard to believe a team that lost to Cincinnati has a shot at the red-hot Columbus Crew, even if the Black & Gold end up having to play without Darlington Nagbe or Eloy Room.
Columbus Crew 2 Atlanta United 0

Drew Niccum

Columbus is all but assured of first place in Group E and fans should expect Caleb Porter to rotate some to give players rest and recover from potential injuries. Meanwhile, Atlanta has everything to play for, needing a win to have even a chance of making the knockout stage. But, United’s offense has not been clicking. Without Josef Martinez, it is much easier to close off offensive outlets and the Crew should have no trouble with this, even with a rotated squad. The issue will be breaking down Atlanta’s backline, as the center defense and goalkeeper Brad Guzan have actually put in good performances. Despite this being a must-win for Atlanta, this game really reads like a draw to me. Featuring a goal from Luis Diaz.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 1

Guilherme Torres

From all the matches in group stage, this is easily the toughest to predict. In the back of my mind, I always had questions about how the Crew would approach this game if the team was qualified for the knockout stage. Well, they are, and, not only that, the Crew is virtually guaranteed as the top team in the pool. Head coach Caleb Porter had publicly put a lot of weight on these first matches due to their impact in the regular season, but with some players injured and other who could use some rest, I think we won’t see such a sharp and enthusiastic team as we saw against Cincinnati and the Red Bulls.
Columbus Crew 1 Atlanta United 1

Patrick Guldan

With two wins and a +6 goal differential, the Crew is a near lock to finish on the top of the group and so this game doesn’t “matter” for the MLS is Back Tournament. If this was a true cup group game, then the decisions would be clear: near total rotation and resting key starters. However, this game does matter for the MLS regular season. The Crew could move to 4-0-1 on the season with a win and Caleb Porter says the goal is to get all nine points in these games. Columbus will put out a competitive team. Porter still will be forced to rotate.

Several players have logged significant minutes through the tournament. Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Hector Jimenez and Eloy Room started the first two group games. Nagbe and Room picked up injuries during the match against the Red Bulls. It’s unclear who will be tapped for the game, but the expectations will be to win. The challenge, even with depth, is to keep the fluidity as the lineup changes. Any MLS midfield would be worse missing Zelarayan or Nagbe. It likely falls to Youness Mokhtar and Pedro Santos to manage Porter’s possession-based attack.

The Crew’s problems are luxuries compared to Atlanta United. The Five Stripes are struggling without their star and several offseason transfers. There’s plenty of talent around the lineup, but without Josef Martínez, Julian Gressel and, of course, Nagbe, Atlanta hasn’t looked the same as the team’s scintillating first three seasons in the league. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco are among the most talented attackers in MLS, but Adam Jahn is no Martinez.

These third games of a short week often are ragged affairs. Fatigue and in some cases, desperation, kicks in. If the Crew can weather whatever Atlanta throws forward, they have the depth to create on the counter and control the game for stretches.
Columbus Crew 2 Atlanta United 1

Doug Hildreth

The Crew has looked like one of the most complete teams in the tournament. Going into this season, I had some concerns about depth but Caleb Porter’s rotation has stood up to the challenge. Conversely, Atlanta has looked tepid at best. Even if Porter fills his starting XI with Crew Jr’s, I like the team’s chances. I do expect some rotation, but still giving some of the regular XI time.
Columbus Crew 3 Atlanta United 1

Jay Homan

Caleb Porter made five changes to his starting lineup between the first two matches. With a spot in the knockout round already secured and the top spot in the group basically secured, I expect Porter to do some tinkering again. Nothing drastic, but enough to grow the relationships within the team. Plus, there are still three regular season points on the line. It helps that Atlanta United has been a bit of a mess this tournament, unable to find its rhythm or the back of the net. Which begs the question, if United goes out without any points, is Frank de Boer on the hot seat?
Columbus Crew 2 Atlanta United 0

Nick Hudak

One more test lies between the Crew and the knockout round. Atlanta clearly look a shell of itself without Josef Martinez and a huge question remains of the team: where do the goals come from in Frank de Boer’s side?

United sits at bottom of the group and had had a dismal start to the 2020 season. The two teams are on opposite sides of the pecking order and there’s no reason to pick against the Black & Gold given their current form.

Another question that remains is how will Porter treat squad rotation in a game that isn’t a tournament-decider. Assuming business as usual, the Crew will come out the better side and finish the better side.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Atlanta United 0

How do you think this game will play out? Let us know your prediction in the comment section below.