Atlanta United vs. Columbus: Don’t expect surprises in Game 3

Atlanta United and Columbus Crew take the field as they prepare for Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. (Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United and Columbus Crew take the field as they prepare for Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. (Miguel Martinez /

Atlanta United and Columbus will face off for the fourth time in the past five matches for each team when they meet for Game 3 of their playoff series Sunday at Field.

The record in those previous three matches: 1-1-1. Working backward, Atlanta United won 4-2 in Game 2. Columbus won 2-0 in Game 1. The teams drew their regular-season match 1-1 on Oct. 7. The teams even scored the same number of goals, 5.

“I don’t think there are many surprises at this point,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “You can tweak little things, but I wouldn’t call that surprise.”

Pineda said Columbus made a couple of tweaks involving Julian Gressel’s use for Game 2, but Atlanta United players were able to make the in-game adjustments to help nullify the efforts.

Winning Sunday’s match, Pineda said, will come down to which team is able to better execute its fundamentals. Both teams like to hold onto the ball. Both teams like to attack. Both teams like to apply pressure.

Looking back at the two games in the playoffs, Columbus was able to take advantage of Atlanta United’s mistakes – three turnovers and lax defending on a set piece – for its four goals. Atlanta United was better able to execute its tactics in Game 2 with quick attacks.

“I love tactics, I like to work in structures and things, but I think in these type of games it’s about going more by principles, principles of play,” Pineda said.

Executing those principles on the road hasn’t been easy for Atlanta United this season. It went 3-6-8 on the road. Columbus went 12-1-4 at home, including a 6-1 victory over Atlanta United in March.

Pineda said that MLS may have one of the more important home-field advantages of any league in the world.

To overcome that, Atlanta United will need to keep its focus on the “little things,” such as help defense and winning the first duels, that can boost confidence.

“If you’re mentally strong, you respond well when you play away,” Pineda said.

Fullback Caleb Wiley said he doesn’t feel like there’s abnormal pressure Saturday, despite the stakes.

“These are times, these are games, that you really want to soak in. These are the games that are really going to be just a straight battle,” he said. “The soccer doesn’t have to be the best, but it comes down to who wants it more.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0

Aug. 26 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0

Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2

Sept. 16 Atlanta United 5, Inter Miami 2

Sept. 20 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 1

Sept. 23 Atlanta United 4, Montreal 1

Oct. 4 Philadelphia 3, Atlanta United 2

Oct. 7 Atlanta United 1, Columbus 1

Oct. 21 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Nov. 1 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 0

Nov. 7 Atlanta United 4, Columbus 2