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Three Questions: Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew

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With SB Nation’s Massive Report

NBA: All Star Saturday Night Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s matchup against the Columbus Crew, we spoke with Massive Report’s Pat Murphy to get his take on Justin Meram’s return, their potential move to Austin, and Mark Wahlberg’s interest in owning the team.

DSS: How does it feel having Justin Meram back and where does he stand in the team in terms of depth?

MR: It feels like he was never gone, to be honest. The day he arrived, Meram walked out to interviews as if there was nothing strange about him being back. Apparently there was little fanfare when he came into the locker room that morning. He has called it his six-month vacation, which is one way to put it.

As for his place within the team, we will see. He came off the bench for about 30 minutes last week and was active and a part of the team’s attack. Given that he hadn’t played and hardly trained in over a month, Meram will have to build that fitness back up and he’s been working hard on that this week. The next step will be proving he deserves to be in the starting lineup, which means finding somewhere near the form he was in the first half of last year. I believe the hope is he works his way back into the starting lineup and helps inject this offense with some firepower.

DSS: Any updates on the Crew to Austin situation?

MR: Actually, yes. Just this week, the Austin City Council, after much debate and delays, voted to approve negotiations with Anthony Precourt on a stadium site (his third choice, well outside the city’s downtown). This isn’t necessarily a kill shot to the Save The Crew efforts, but it would have helped things if the vote had gone the other way.

Meanwhile in Columbus, the league recently met with the local ownership group hoping to buy the team and keep it in town. Given what’s going on in Austin and the league’s support of Precourt’s decision, this seems strange. The hope around town is that this means MLS will agree to sell the team to Columbus and keep them here and then give Precourt an expansion team in Austin. That would allow the local group to have its team and begin work on the downtown stadium they would like to build and allow Precourt and Austin to figure out their stadium situation so the Austin team doesn’t have to play in a temporary location.

I’m really not sure what’s going to happen at this point. Hopefully we’ll get some kind of resolution in the near future. This has been a mess.

DSS: Why is Mark Wahlberg being mentioned in the same sentence as the Columbus Crew?

MR: He bought a Chevy dealership in Columbus in July that opened recently. He was at the dealership for the first time earlier this week and was asked about the team. He said it would be something that would interest him. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but he doubled down later in the week on a radio show in Cleveland, saying his business partner has talked to the potential local owners.

I’m not sure where the Columbus connection comes from, but he’s on the record from multiple interviews (not necessarily local) saying that he loves the city. I assume this will be something that we forget about in the near future, but it’s interesting right now.