The Crew’s opening playoff game is nearly upon us. Here are three things I think they need to do to be successful against Atlanta United.
Play Keep Away
The best defense is often a good offense. Atlanta scored the second-most goals in MLS during the regular season. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball and the Crew are well equipped to play a game a keep away-Wilfried Nacy’s team led the league in possession. Maintain possession, control the pace, put Atlanta on their heels, and keep the ball away from their dangerous attack.
The Five Stripes scored 18 set piece goals this season. That’s one of the best totals in the league. As we all know, one of those goals came in early October against the Crew when there was confusion as to who was marking whom. That can’t happen in Wednesday's opening game. Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte must properly organize his defense and make sure each offensive player is accounted for. There can’t be confusion with assignments. All Crew defenders need to be on the same page. My hope is the Crew can limit the amount of set pieces they allow.
Leaders Need To Lead
If you’ve paid attention to the results of the opening round playoff games so far, you know just one home team has lost. The top seed in the Western Conference, St. Louis, was hammered 4-1 by Sporting Kansas City. I’m going to stop just short of saying the moment was too big for them, but they did not look comfortable at all. Led by captain and three-time MLS Cup champion Darlington Nagbe, the Crew’s veterans need to make sure the younger players don’t get caught up in the moment of the team’s first playoff game in front of what will be a raucous crowd. The Crew has not been involved in the playoffs since 2020, so there is a lot of inexperience when it comes to handling the postseason at the MLS level. Keep those young guys calm, don’t allow panic to set in if things go wrong early, and help them maintain their focus. Veteran leadership in situations like this is invaluable.
While the players need to stay calm, I fully intend to be caught up in the moment of the first-ever playoff game at Lower.com Field. Let’s all bundle up, stay warm, and be LOUD.