Two weeks ago Atlanta United was gearing up for the first home game of Rob Valentino’s tenure. Excitement was abounding after an encouraging 1-1 draw with FC Cincinnati while Josef Martinez made his long-awaited return from the dog house. Ninety minutes later the anticipation was rather muted. Columbus walked out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 1-0 win while playoffs fell even further from Atlanta’s view. The story since then has only gotten darker but it’s too early to write off 2021 just yet. With the arrival of Luiz Araujo on the horizon and Josef Martinez back to his best, an unlikely trip to the postseason is still achievable for the Five Stripes. Results, however, need to start turning Atlanta’s way and quickly. Valentino’s side lost to Orlando and drew with Montreal in the most recent pair of outings, setting the stage for about as must-win a match as possible for August at the newly minted Lower.com field.
Columbus is one of the few teams to have an even worse record than Atlanta since July 24th’s meeting between the teams. The Crew lost heavily at the hands of both NYCFC (4-1) and DC United (4-2). Defense has been Columbus’s sole bright spot in 2021 but even that’s now looking shaky as well. Caleb Porter’s side went from boasting the best defense in the Eastern Conference to fourth with 20 goals conceded. Its’ expected goals against is now 9th best and if not for a heavy shift from keeper Eloy Room, the situation in Columbus could be much worse. One thing that hasn’t changed is Lucas Zelarayan’s impact for the Crew. He’s scored two of Columbus’ last three goals while Kevin Molino opened his account in Ohio with the third. But even the Argentine’s best efforts haven’t kept Columbus from falling to 7th with a 6W-6T-5L record and a goal differential of negative one. The Crew’s tally of 24 points is still nine ahead of Atlanta, currently tied on 15 with Cincinnati. There is some good news heading the Crew’s way. Gyasi Zardes is back from international duty with the USMNT and came off the bench midweek. His four goals lead Columbus’ charts and he’ll provide a much-needed boost for a lagging attack.
Predicted Starting XIs
The absence of Josef Martinez is partly balanced out by Miles Robinson’s return, though he’ll need to channel his goalscoring form with the USMNT to fully replace the suspended Venezuelan. If Robinson can’t manage to repeat his moment of magic in the Gold Cup final, expect a close and rather dreary ninety minutes. Neither team is well-known for any sort of final third threat, though no one is that strong defensively either. Two goals from set pieces will be enough for both teams to leave with a point.
Prediction: Columbus Crew 1-1 Atlanta United