The Crew were perhaps the best team in the league and solidly in first place throughout the first half of the season but a combination of injuries to key players and a run of poor form in recent weeks has sent the Ohio side tumbling off the peak of the Eastern Conference mountain. An October run of four losses in seven coincided with Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan, and goalkeeper Eloy Room rotating on and off the injury shelf, while Gyasi Zardes has scored just two in his last ten. Caleb Porter’s side has fallen to 4th on 39 points and its Supporters Shield dream ended with a midweek defeat to Orlando City. A home playoff game is in doubt as well if the Crew don’t pick up three points Sunday which would be doubly important as Columbus is yet to win an away game this season. On the bright side, the above mentioned trio is all healthy and Sunday provides a good chance to pick up some momentum just in time for the playoffs.
Atlanta was given a brief reprieve in its hunt for a playoff spot when the Chicago Fire blew a 2-0 lead into a 2-2 draw against Minnesota midweek. Chicago and the Montreal Impact hold the final two Eastern Conference postseason spots on 23 points while Atlanta has 22 and Miami and DC both lurk on 21. With Miami taking on Cincinnati and DC meeting Montreal, Atlanta may need a win Sunday to have any hope of extending its season. Last week’s business-like 2-0 win over Cincy was promising but its going to take a lot more to knock down the other team from Ohio. Marcelino Moreno and Co. will surely cause some problems in the final third but it may be the center of the park where the Five Stripes struggle most. If the talented trio of Artur, Nagbe, and Zelarayan are allowed to boss the midfield, Atlanta’s road to victory will become a cliff-face. Should Atlanta manage to somehow stay in the game, then the Crew’s leaky defence (no shutouts in ten games) could be exploited thanks to the speed and trickery of Jon Gallagher and Jurgen Damm.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Columbus Crew 2-1 Atlanta United
This one won’t be a blowout but the result still goes in Columbus’ favor, ending Atlanta’s slim playoff hopes. A second goal in as many games from Moreno won’t be enough thanks to goals from Zardes and Pedro Santos.