To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s match against the Columbus Crew, we spoke with Massive Report’s Patrick Murphy to get his take on the Crew’s away form, Justin Meram, and his main takeaways from their start to the season.
DSS: Like many MLS clubs, the Crew have been good at home, but poor on the road this season. Are there any obvious explanations as to why that is in Columbus' case?
MR: Honestly, I think that's just MLS for you. Under Gregg Berhalter, Crew SC have always stuck to their guns in terms of the playing style. Home or away, this team looks to possess the ball, make the other team move and hopes to play good, entertaining soccer. Is it possible that leaves them more vulnerable on the road where the home team isn't as content to sit back? Sure, but that's not going to change.
I read something recently that called MLS one of the hardest leagues for a road team to win. I think the combination of distance travelled, different weather conditions and, more recently, legitimate home environments makes getting a result on the road big.
One thing I'd like to add is that despite only two victories away from MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus is tied for the third-most road wins in MLS. I think what has been the biggest issue is the team's inability to get draws on the road. Too many times this year, the Black & Gold should have come away with at least a point on the road, but one mistake turns that into a loss. A few more points in the standings and we're talking about a third place side instead of fifth.
DSS: Justin Meram has been fantastic this season. What will Atlanta have to do to slow him down?
MR: Fortunately for United, he's slowed himself down in recent games. That's not to say he's still not playing well, but after scoring a hat trick in Montreal in mid-May, Meram has just one goal in four matches. To be fair to the winger, he also has two assists over that stretch, so he's doing just fine.
As for Atlanta containing him, I think it's just about staying in front of him and getting him frustrated. Meram does a great job of moving around the field and getting into pockets. He has also developed a knack of being in the right place at the right time. But it all starts with his dribbling. If he's not as successful taking players on, it can (not always) impact the other parts of his game.
With that said, Meram has shown great maturity over the last couple of years and changed his game quite a bit. There's a reason he's having the success he is and sometimes it's just about doing what you can and hoping to live with the results. Containing him also means containing those around him, and that can be a tough task when the Crew SC attack gets going.
DSS: What are your main takeaways midway through the Crew's season?
MR: It's certainly been up and down. The team is statistically off to its best start since Berhalter took over in 2014. There have been stretches where the club looks very good (a three-game winning streak from mid-March to early April) and other times where the wheels seem to come off (the 5-0 defeat at Toronto FC for instance).
Fans are starting to get restless and tired of the same thing. What I see is a side that brought in several new players in the offseason and a lot of those guys are still learning how to play, both with each other and in a complicated system. This team has traditionally been a second half of the year side under Berhalter and are in a decent position at the mid point.
I think there's certainly talent, especially offensively, for this team to make a run and climb up the East somewhat. The defense continues to be shaky, but I know from talking to the coaches and players that this is a big focus. As I mentioned above, a few more ties, grinding out results when you have to, would have this team in a different spot, which makes me optimistic for the second half and the stretch run.