Any championship game or deciding game of a playoff series is nearly always hyped to be larger than life. But in the end THE GAME is still the game. Teams and their players must do the same things that have allowed them to get to this point. Offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles. Here is a look at how these things could come into play in Sunday night’s Match 3 with Atlanta United.
I don’t doubt Atlanta is going to pressure the Crew each time they gain possession in their defensive end of the field. Once The Five Stripes went with this tactic, the Crew struggled to consistently mount a strong attack out of their own end. They are going to have to find a way to beat the pressure and force Atlanta back on their heels.
In Match 2, Atlanta decided Cucho was not going to beat them. While he did score an equalizing goal late in the first half, the Crew’s leading scorer was often bracketed by two defenders and sometimes surrounded by three. Instead of trying to dribble through this traffic like he did Tuesday, I want to see him look to find an open teammate. If there is that much attention being given to Cucho, another Crew player is wide open. Moving the ball means moving the defense. Get defenders out of position and take advantage of the space.
The Crew defense must be better than in Match 2. A lot better. Everything in Atlanta’s offense goes through Thiago Almada. He is extremely good one on one and it’s difficult to take the ball away from him. All of this allows their forwards to make runs into open areas where Almada can deliver one of his perfect passes. The Crew is going to have to close down space on Almada and not give him room to work. Easier said than done, I know, but it has to happen.
Yes, Wilfried Nancy must devise a way for the Crew to beat the pressure Atlanta will apply when trying to bring the ball out of their own half, along with figuring out a way to control Almada. But the biggest thing he needs to do is make sure his team is mentally prepared to play. I don’t think they really were in Match 2, because intensity was certainly lacking. I have full confidence that Nancy will have his team ready to go Sunday night.
Home sweet home. This deciding game will be played on GRASS in the friendly confines of Lower.com Field instead of that godawful turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Soccer on artificial turf should be outlawed. The ball skips like a stone across water and bounces like a super ball. We won’t see any of that in Match 3. The crowd is another positive about playing at home. As a team, the Crew can feed off the energy of its rabid fans. During a Friday media session, Malte Amundsen said this about playing at home,
“I want to play at home in front of our fans. Here, where we feel confident, we feel good. Even though we come off a loss, it’s like we can wipe this away, now it’s a different scenario. It’s going to be a different game. That is what I feel. This is how confident I feel.”
I agree with Amundsen. I think to will be a different game as well, but not only because the Crew is at home. I think it’s going to be different because they are going to have a chip on their shoulder after getting run off the field in Match 2. The Crew has something to prove and I think we’ll see that reflected in their attitude Sunday night.