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Atlanta United will host Columbus on Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first round of the MLS playoffs. The game will be televised by ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
The winner will advance to a two-legged series against either Toronto, the top seed, or NYCFC, the second seed, that starts Monday or Tuesday.
Andrew Erickson, who covers Columbus for the Columbus Dispatch, answered three questions about Saturday’s game. You can follow his coverage on twittter @AEricksonCD.
Q: Columbus seems a very different team than when Atlanta United defeated it 2-0 earlier this season. What are the most importance changes?
A: A few things. Federico Higuain has been playing his best soccer of the season since returning from knee injury and has seven assists in his last four games. Right winger Pedro Santos, an addition at the end of the secondary transfer window, has given the offense an extra dimension and better ball control in the final third. After months of searching for a consistent set of center backs, Josh Williams and Jonathan Mensah have settled in and performed better over the last few weeks.
Q: How has the news about the franchise possibly relocating to Austin affected the players?
A: The players were put in a difficult spot with last week's news. They're residents of a city that is understandably saddened by the potential of the club leaving and they're employees of a team that is exploring its options. It was a burden throughout last week, but one that doesn't seem to be as noticeable this week now that the initial shock of the news is gone. The Crew looked sluggish in the first half of a 2-2 tie at NYCFC on Decision Day but turned the page in the second half and will look to continue that form against Atlanta.
Q: What is the most important matchup in the game and how do you think that matchup will influence the outcome?
A: GK Zack Steffen vs. Mercedes Benz Stadium -- 70,000 fans is a lot for any goalkeeper to handle, let alone a rookie. Steffen made seven saves in the Crew's tie at NYCFC and stopped a David Villa penalty kick in stoppage time to save the game. It will be a big moment for the 22-year-old, but if he can stay within himself and make a few athletic saves against a high-octane Atlanta attack, the Crew will have a chance.