As we head toward the next instalment of the Crew’s best-of-three first-round playoff series with Atlanta United, my advice is to not expect many of the same things we saw in the opening match. This game is going to have a different look and feel.
Not The Same Atlanta United
After missing last week’s game, MLS Young Player of the Year Thiago Almada and his 11 goals and 19 assists return to the lineup for The Five Stripes. You can pretty much bet they will not be starting a five-man back line as they did last week. With Almada leading the way, they are going to attack and try to put pressure on the Crew defense from the opening kick. Because they are on the verge of elimination, they can’t sit back and hope to counterpunch. That’s not their style anyway. Atlanta trailed only the Crew in goals scored this season. Look for them to do anything they can to open up space for Almada to work and try to get the ball to ace goal scorer Giorgos Giakoumakis, who the Crew frustrated at every turn in the opener. The Crew has their work cut out for them, because Atlanta is a different team with Almada and I’m sure they were not happy with getting just one shot in the opening match.
A Softer Approach
It started early and happened often. In Match 1, the Crew was the victim of hard fouls by Atlanta-many of those were from behind. I don’t doubt for a second this was done to rattle the Crew and work as a distraction. It didn’t work. The Crew maintained their composure and the tactic eventually blew up in the face of Atlanta when one of those hard fouls led to a Cucho penalty kick and a 2-goal lead. I don’t expect to see the same tactic this time, not with Almada back in the lineup. Plus, they’re going to be feeding off of a home crowd that will probably top the 42,684 we saw when the Crew played there last month. You’re going to see Atlanta take a softer approach to this one.
I Keep Going Back To This
We have a matchup of the top two teams in goal scoring and time of possession. Each is going to try to control the ball, attack, put the other back on its heels and make them work on defense. There’s just one thing I keep coming back to when I look at these two teams. The Crew is playing better defense. You can make the argument they are playing much better defense. They’ve given up just six goals in their last six games. Atlanta has given up 10 in their last six, but eight of those have come in their last four games. I don’t see this trend changing in Match 2 of this series.
I really love going to Crew games, but for obvious reasons I’m hoping to not make a trip to Lower.com Field on Sunday. I want to see the Crew put an end to this series Tuesday in Atlanta.