Atlanta United’s midweek stumble against the Philadelphia Union has made its mission for the final two games of the 2023 regular season very clear - win. If the Five Stripes are to pull a top four spot out of their sleeve, they’re going to need to win out and hope for some help. The good news, though is that Atlanta can not only add a much-needed three points but also take points off a direct rival in its home curtain-closer this weekend against the Columbus Crew.
The Crew currently hold the coveted fourth place spot on 53 points, 1 clear of New England (who has one game in hand), and four ahead of Atlanta. Anything less than a win and 5th will be the highest Atlanta can finish, and Columbus is a tough test even on the best of days. Wilfried Nancy has taken Columbus from missing the playoffs two seasons running to one of the best and most watchable teams in the Eastern Conference in just his first year in charge. Columbus has the highest-scoring attack with 64 scored, even without former centerpiece Lucas Zelarayan who left for Saudi Arabia midseason. Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez (14 goals, 7 assists) has taken center stage since, while Zelarayan’s replacement Diego Rossi (currently at a respectable 3 goals and 2 assists in 9 games) finds his footing. Christian Ramirez (8g, 3a), Alexandru Matan (1g, 8a), and summer signing Julian Gressel form quite the supporting cast alongside the big-name forwards and make Columbus a team full to the brim with attacking weapons. Columbus’ defense, however, ranks only 8th, which frequently makes for high-scoring games on both ends of the pitch.
That sounds quite familiar, and all the moreso after Atlanta’s 3-2 defeat to Philadelphia on Wednesday. It wasn’t a horrible outing, but it did just about end the Five Stripes’ top four hopes. Winning out gets Gonzalo Pineda’s side 55 points, and even then Atlanta would need Philadelphia, Columbus, and New England to fail to win all of their remaining games. In short, the odds are it’s not gonna happen. Atlanta still has plenty to play for, however, and its final two games against Columbus and FC Cincinnati give it some potential playoff previews and the chance to build up momentum and confidence with wins over quality opposition ahead of the postseason.
Atlanta trails the all-time series with a 6W-1D-8L record against the Crew, and hasn’t won since August 2021, including a franchise worst 6-1 loss in the reserve fixture this year.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-2 Columbus Crew
The Five Stripes will keep their top-four dreams alive for another week or two thanks to a Giorgos Giakoumakis brace and a Xande Silva strike, narrowly edging Columbus after a back and forth 90 minutes.