Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) and Columbus Crew defender Jonathan Mensah (4) fight over the ball during an MLS game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Atlanta. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Atlanta United vs. Columbus: Three questions

Atlanta United will play at Columbus on Wednesday in what will likely be their final trip to MAPFRE Stadium.

Though it seems likely the Crew will eventually relocate to Austin, Texas, it has ignored the uncertainty and is continuing to play excellent soccer. Gregg Berhalter’s team has the respect of Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino and his players, who have repeatedly complimented their style and professionalism.

It is a game with massive implications.

Atlanta United leads MLS in points (30). Columbus is third in the East (27 points). 

Atlanta United leads the league in goals (31). Columbus is tied for first in goals allowed (14).

Andrew Erickson (@AEricksonCD) of the Columbus Dispatch answered three questions about the game.

Q. How is Berhalter getting such good production from Gyasi Zardes? 

A. A combination of factors. Talking to Zardes, he believes the increase in production is a product of health and coaches giving him a better sense of where he needs to be in specific moments to maximize the offense. There's also something to be said for the Crew's system under Berhalter, which has made Golden Boot contenders out of Kei Kamara and then Ola Kamara. Another reason is belief. Berhalter made it clear after the Ola Kamara trade that Zardes would have a shot to be the team's everyday striker and followed through with that plan. Zardes scored a bunch of goals in preseason and built a sense of confidence that has carried him into June.

Q. What has been the key to maintaining focus amid all the chaos? 

A. Repetition. Crew SC is fortunate in the sense that it had an October regular-season game followed by a five-game playoff run in 2017 to figure out how to play as a unit amid the uncertainty of potential relocation. During the playoffs, players were able to insulate themselves from the outside noise and rally around the questions regarding their future. Through three-plus months of the 2018 season, not much has changed. Players are well aware of the uncertainty that remains but have not let the distractions seep onto the field. They also know there's a lot they can't control and a lot they don't know. A few players have commented that they know just as much about the situation as the reporters covering the team.

Q. Will (Wil) Trapp and (Zack) Steffen play?

A. I believe so. Trapp doesn't have as much experience playing after a transatlantic flight but should be ready to go for Wednesday and Steffen didn't experience too much wear and tear in Europe. Crew SC also has 10 days until its next game after Wednesday.

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