Both Atlanta United FC and Columbus Crew take to the pitch for the third time since the restart today. The pair, who have experienced contrasting returns, lock horns at Bay Lake, Florida (8pm ET Tuesday).
Columbus Crew, having won each of their opening two matches in Florida, come into this fixture on the up, while Atlanta are very much on a downward slope after losing to both New York Red Bulls and 2019 expansion side Cincinnati.
USAbetting previews this MLS Is Back Tournament game and concludes with our Atlanta vs Columbus predictions.
The Crew mean business
Having failed to qualify for the post season in 2019, Columbus Crew probably weren’t thought of as top dogs ahead of the new campaign, but they’ve proved any doubters wrong. Under Caleb Porter, who had all of 2019 to begin implementing his ideas, the crew have thrived since MLS returned in 2020. Back in March, they opened their account with a first-day win against New York City, while they secured a pleasing draw away at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, which is a notoriously tough venue to visit. Fast forward four months and Columbus are still looking strong. Porter’s men flew out of the blocks against Cincinnati, scoring four goals en route to an easy win, while there was a real element of control to their winning performance against Red Bulls last time out.
A tale of woe for The Five Stripes
Unlike today’s opponents, Atlanta have stumbled into the MLS is Back Tournament. They were lethargic against New York Red Bulls, so much so that had it not been for Brad Guzan between the sticks they would have lost by a greater margin. Not only was the defence nowhere to be seen on that occasion but they offered a limited attacking threat too. In fairness, against Cincinnati, their game was somewhat tarnished by the early dismissal of midfielder Jake Mulraney, who was twice booked inside the opening 26 minutes, although they once again looked off the pace.
Even before lockdown put a stop to regular season play, The Five Stripes weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. They stuttered to one-goal victories against both Nashville and Cincinnati, creating few clear-cut chances in the process.
Martinez leaves a huge void
The injury to Josef Martinez still hangs heavy as far as Atlanta are concerned. The Venezuelan international, who was voted MVP in 2018, has been critical to their success in recent seasons. It’s not just the goals that the frontman scores, of which there are plenty, but his general attacking presence is massive. Without the man who wears the No. 7 jersey, Atlanta Utd simply aren’t the same team. Both Barco and Pity offer an eye-catching combination of flair and skill and both can be game changers on their day, but they are inconsistent, while sheer goal threats they are certainly not. Head coach Frank de Boer would have been hoping that Adam Jahn, who was brought in during the off-season following an excellent campaign in the USL for Phoenix Rising, could fill the sizable void left by Martinez’s injury, but the 29-year-old is yet really to leave his mark.
Porter’s men giving little away
By scoring six goals in two matches, Columbus, with the likes of the explosive Gyasi Zardes and summer signing Lucas Zelarrayan in their ranks, have shown that they are no slouches offensively, but it has been what they’ve done at the other end of the pitch that has been most impressive. Not only have Porter’s side given away zero goals since coming to Florida, but they’ve also conceded very few clear-cut chances. They restricted Cincinnati to just six shots, only three of which hit the target, while they prevented NYRB from hitting the target at all last time out. The way in which The Crew nullified both Cincinnati and Red Bulls should have other teams worried.
Interesting early odds
The early odds ahead of this match suggest that we’re likely to see an even game, though based on what the pair have produced so far, it’s tough to agree with that. On the one hand, we’ve got Atlanta, who’ve limped through their opening two fixtures in Florida, creating little in terms of high-quality opportunities and conceding quite a bit at the other end. On the other hand, there is the well-oiled Columbus Crew machine that has swept aside each of the teams that created serious problems for today’s opponents.
The Crew to take another forward step
Soccer is a funny game, especially in MLS, so it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if Atlanta suddenly got their act together and put in a strong display, but their recent exploits don’t exactly suggest that top performances are right around the corner. In stark contrast, Columbus have hit the ground running in Florida, to such a degree that they simply look overpriced to get the better of Frank de Boer’s men.
Since the return of play, The Crew have bettered their opponents in a variety of areas, including shots for, shots against, shots on target for and shots on target against. Moreover, while Atlanta are struggling massively for goals, Columbus possess two of the top five scorers in the league, who between them have netted five goals in Florida.
When it comes to the Atlanta vs Columbus Crew predictions for this preview, at what appear to be generous early odds with the major American oddsmakers, Caleb Porter’s in-form Columbus are well worth siding with to come out on top. These are the picks: