A great atmosphere, a dominating performance, and a leg up on advancing to the next round of the MLS playoffs. The first-ever playoff game at Lower.com Field sure was a lot of fun for Crew fans. Here are a few observations from Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Atlanta United.
I Thought They Weren’t Very Good On Defense
According to a lot of soccer pundits, defense is a weak spot for the Crew. Try telling that one to Atlanta, because I’m sure they’ll disagree. Wilfried Nancy’s team simply played great defense last night. They completely shut down and frustrated goal-scoring ace Georgios Giakoumakis, rarely allowed The Five Stripes to have the ball in prime scoring areas, and gave up just one shot all night. Not one shot on goal. One SHOT and it came nowhere close to finding the net. The Crew forced one turnover after another and turned one of those into a first-half goal. Although the back line of Steven Moreira, Rudy Camacho, and Malte Amundsen was outstanding, I thought Camacho really stood out. The set piece problems that have plagued this team were a distant memory Wednesday night-those were handled with ease by the Crew. One shot allowed to the league’s second-highest goal-scoring team. We saw a defensive gem by the Crew last night.
I’m sure if you described how the Crew performed on defense, most would think they sacrificed their offense to shut down Atlanta. Nope, nothing of the sort. The Crew’s offense still managed to fire fourteen shots and it took a few very good saves by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan to keep the score respectable. They’ve now generated 36 shots against Atlanta in their last two meetings.
Some Lofty Praise
Cucho scored his first two career playoff goals in Game 1. That makes 12 in his last nine games overall. On Apple TV’s MLS Wrap-Up show, Bradley Wright-Phillips said Cucho has been the league’s best player over the last two months. Let’s hope his high level of play continues, because if it does, it will create a ton of problems for opposing defenses.
You Know What They Say About Playing With Fire
Almost from the opening kickoff, Atlanta was very aggressive and committed one hard foul after another. Referee Lukasz Szpala spent a lot of time giving stern lectures, instead of handing out yellow cards-he gave just one in the first half. But that aggressive play burned them early in the second half when Alex Matan was fouled in the 18-yard box and Cucho converted the ensuing pk to give the Crew a comfortable 2-0 lead. Despite what I’ll politely continue to call aggressive play, Atlanta United received just three yellow cards all night. They were almost begging to have a player sent off, but Szpala really gave them a break they didn’t deserve. By the way, the yellow card on Diego Rossi was ridiculous.
You’re going to hear that a lot leading up to Game 2. “Yeah…but Thiago Alamada didn’t play for Atlanta.” My reply to that is, “Yeah…and?” With 19 assists, he’s obviously a playmaker who was missed. Combine that assist total with 11 goals and he is a handful for a defense. But don’t try to tell me Atlanta is going to go from one shot without Almada to much more of an attack or even winning with him. Not buying it. He’s a difference maker and we’ll see a that in Game 2, but with or without him the Crew win the opener.
A very memorable first playoff game for Lower.com Field, but I really don’t want to go back for a Game 3 of this series. End it Tuesday on the road and let’s move on to the next round.