Atlanta United (5-6-3) will host Columbus on Saturday at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Five Stripes are coming off a victory over Charleston in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, while the Crew (7-8-1) are recovering from being upset by Cincinnati in the same event.
This will be Atlanta United’s third of eight games in a 25-day stretch.
Andrew Erickson, who covers Columbus for the Columbus Dispatch, answered five questions about Saturday’s game. You can follow his coverage on twittter @AEricksonCD.
The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast and can be heard on 92.9FM.
1. Columbus seems like it’s one of the more erratic teams in MLS with a win followed by a loss. Why can’t they gain any consistency?
A: A lot of Crew SC’s inconsistencies this season relate to defense. The Crew made a point after the 2016 season to go out and bolster its back line. It did on paper, signing designated player Jonathan Mensah, veteran Josh Williams and homegrown player Alex Crognale and drafting center back Lalas Abubakar with the fifth overall pick in the SuperDraft. The season started off on a stronger note for the Crew defense, but poor positioning in key moments has taken its toll. On its best days, Crew SC competes with the best teams in the league. On its worst days, it struggles to close out games. Through 16 games, the Crew has surrendered 14 points from a winning position.
2. What is the biggest difference in this team since it last played Atlanta United in the preseason?
A: They haven’t all been good experiences, but Crew SC is a team that is collectively more used to the ups and downs of an MLS season than it was against Atlanta United in Charleston. On Feb. 18, midfielder Artur had not yet arrived from Brazil, newly-signed DP Jonathan Mensah was recovering from the Africa Cup of Nations and young goalkeeper Zack Steffen made his first start of any kind in a Crew uniform in the 2-1 Columbus win. For better or worse, the new Crew players have witnessed a full range of Columbus results and performances over a 16-game span.
3. Who is the most improved player this season?
A: Midfielder Justin Meram has had a strong start to the 2017 season after a 2016 season in which he earned team MVP honors but likely could have hurt teams even more. Meram is the team’s co-leading scorer with eight goals but said earlier this week he should have an even higher goals total considering his scoring chances this season. Ola Kamara (eight goals) has likewise been effective at finishing chances, but Crew SC’s success in the second half will likely depend on Meram’s ability to both create and finish chances.
4. What is the match up to watch?
A: Michael Parkhurst vs. Ola Kamara — Parkhurst, Crew SC’s former captain, knows the tendencies of his old teammates, including Kamara, who joined the Crew prior to the 2016 season. The Crew knows Parkhurst’s strengths and weaknesses. The player who best prepares for and exploits that mutual knowledge should have the better game Saturday.
5. Predicted score?
A: 2-2. Crew SC often struggles in defensive transition, opening itself up to trouble against strong counterattacking teams like Atlanta United. But if a loss to United Soccer League side FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup can’t wake up the Crew, what can?