Columbus Crew SC (11-7-6) travels to take on Atlanta United (14-4-6) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. as part of the two clubs’ second meeting of the season on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 4 p.m. ET.
Last week, the Black & Gold extended its win streak to three matches with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Under a minute into second-half stoppage time, Harrison Afful sent in a lofting cross from the flank for Gyasi Zardes, who sent a one-touch ball into the back left corner of the net.
Meanwhile, Atlanta is fresh off of a bye week after drawing Toronto FC 2-2 on Aug. 4. A brace from Golden Boot-leader Josef Martinez was not enough to earn three points as Toronto found its equalizer in the 90th minute.
Crew SC’s last visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium sent the Black & Gold to the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2017 Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs. Crew SC advanced through the Knockout Round after 120 scoreless minutes and a thrilling 3-1 victory in extra-time penalty kicks.
Earlier this week, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter spoke on the challenges Atlanta poses.
“We know it’s a tough team," Berhalter said. "We know we’ve had problems in the regular season playing against them and we know they have threats; Almiron and the counter-attack, Martinez -- the best goal scorer this league has seen over this period of time. They have a good defense, good wingers and it’s going to be a difficult game for us. We’re gonna have a game plan in place to try to hurt them and to try to establish our game on them a little bit but again, we’ll see what happens."
In their last meeting, Crew SC suffered a 2-0 loss at MAPFRE Stadium. The Crew SC defense limited Atlanta to six shots, including three on target while the Black & Gold posted 12 overall and three on frame.
However, an uncontested back-post header from Martinez marked the game-winner in the 30th minute before Héctor Villalba provided the insurance tally in the 82nd minute. Atlanta's win snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak for Columbus along with goalkeeper Zack Steffen's shutout streak, which ended at 525 minutes, a mark good for eighth all-time in MLS and the longest in Club history.
Though Crew SC's first match came up short, Zardes commented on proper execution as a path for a positive result come Sunday.
"We really have to focus on what our coaches have planned in our training sessions," Zardes said. "Our coaches watch a bunch of film and sacrifice a lot of time on analyzing our opponents and we just have to apply everything we learn in practice into the game."
Atlanta currently sits at the top of the Eastern Conference with 48, just one ahead of the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC. Columbus remains relatively isolated in fourth place with 39 points, eight behind the New York clubs and nine ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia.
Following Atlanta, Columbus continues its road trip and heads north to take on the Chicago Fire on August 23. The Thursday evening match kicks of at 7 p.m. ET.