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Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew, 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs: Match Preview

Playoffs are back to the Benz after a four-year with with a must-win game two

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Atlanta United’s return to the playoffs didn’t quite go to plan. The Five Stripes lasted just forty-five minutes before Cucho Hernández broke through a rather flimsy bunker and made it 1-0. The Five Stripes never even came close to an equalizer, tallying a grand total of one shot, and instead went on to concede a second, but the good news is that doesn’t matter. Thanks to this season’s playoff format, all Atlanta needs is to beat Columbus twice to go through, regardless of the aggregate scoreline.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Of course, beating Columbus just once is quite the obstacle, let alone back-to-back times. Nonetheless, there’s at least reason to believe Atlanta can pull off a victory on Tuesday. For one, the return of Thiago Almada will breathe some life back into the attack and see the departure of the 5-3-2 shape that Gonzalo Pineda went with neither defensive success nor shots on goal in game one.

The must-win nature of game two (anything less than three points in regulation or spot-kicks will be the end of Atlanta’s season), and what’s sure to be an electric crowd at the Benz for the first postseason game in Georgia since 2019 will certainly offer the Five Stripes a very different environment off the pitch as well. Whether the players on the field and coach on the sideline will rise to the occasion remains to be seen, however.

Previous Results

Last week’s 2-0 loss was the fifth straight game in which Atlanta has failed to beat Columbus, all under Gonzalo Pineda. In three meetings this year the good guys have been outscored 9-2 and lost just about every statistical battle possible on every occasion. Not great!

Predicted Starting XIs

Atlanta’s Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)
Columbus’ Predicted XI (3-4-2-1)

Prediction: Atlanta United 3-2 Columbus Crew

What none of those earlier meetings had, however, was an Atlanta United side playing for its season in front of a playoff crowd. The Crew will still make quite a game of it thanks to goals from Cucho and Diego Rossi, but a Thiago Almada brace and a game-winner from the newly-crowned Newcomer of the Year Giorgos Giakoumakis will push the series to a game three.