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Prekrap: Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew

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Previewing the first match of the Carolina Challenge Cup

MLS: Preseason Friendly-Nashville SC vs Atlanta United FC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Well the last time these two teams met, Atlanta United scored two expected goals, which is just as good as scoring zero goals - because that is what happened. The tuneup game against Nashville was fun and the Five Stripes showed that in the rain and terrible conditions they can still crush a team that is playing its first ever game. While the game against the Columbus Crew is ultimately meaningless and won’t show up in the season standings, the team will still be looking to try to get their tactics right and give some players fighting for a first team spot some minutes.

Anyway, onto the Prekrap...

What to expect from the Crew

The Crew will rely on pure luck and hope the ball doesn’t go into the net again. Don’t laugh, it worked against Atlanta in the playoffs. At this point, their best player is arguably goal keeper Zack Steffen because Columbus have cleaned house. They got rid of attacking midfielder Justin Meram and striker Ola Kamara, replacing them with... Gyasi Zardes. Columbus did add designated player Milton Valenzuela in defense and forward Mike Grealla in the offseason, but it seems like they are doing a minor tank job while the new stadium in Columbus or move to Austin is worked out.

More than likely, they will play in a 4-2-3-1 and try not to get overrun in midfield if Atlanta starts a full strength roster. Wil Trapp is mostly OK, but Darlington Nagbe and Miguel Almiron should be able to cut this team to ribbons in midfield if they’re on the pitch at the same time together. When the Crew have the ball, again assuming they put out a full strength 11, they will try to build from the back and, when not overwhelmed by the -dusts off alliterative title- Peachtree Press, will try to get the ball to playmaker Frederico Higuain. In the off chance that he isn’t challenged by an Atlanta defender and dispossessed because they no longer have Meram to be a threat and an outlet for Higuain, he’ll look for either forward Gyasi Zardes or winger Pablo Santos.

Basically, it could be a long day for the Crew and a long season for them as well. But, maybe not, Gregg Berhalter is a great coach and he could get the most out of these players.

Don’t get hurt, let’s see the kids, and experiment

As far as Atlanta United, this is a pre-season friendly and the top - top priority should be staying healthy. Now that we got that out of the way, the team will be looking to gain some fitness and some of the depth players will have a chance to show that they deserve minutes either off the bench or even starting.

Andrew Carleton saw about 30 minutes in Nashville and perhaps Tata will give him a shot to start on the right wing in place of Tito Villalba. Julian Gressel was in pre-season form in Tennessee and Carleton could get a chance to show what he can do on the right wing. The match might also give Chris Goslin a chance to show he can hold down the no. 6 role and he’ll be looking to make the most of his time on the pitch.

I have long held the private belief that Atlanta United should yell YOLO and play a 2-7-1 formation - it is elegant, high scoring, completely insane, and in no way a serious or good idea. But a 3-4-3 ish formation that looks like a 3-5-2 ish formation might be something the team will run with this year, so don’t be surprised to see that formation for at least a half or even to start the game.

Regardless of what the formation is, the team will also look to build chemistry as they prepare for the start of the regular season in two short weeks. Ezequeil Barco looked bright even in the rain against Nashville, but he clearly needs more time to time his through balls into the box for Josef Martinez’s lethal runs. If he’s able to get on the same page with Josef, there could be some fireworks in Charleston and Atlanta could stomp out the Crew.