For the third time this season, Columbus Crew SC welcomes an opponent to MAPFRE Stadium, a home that, statistically, has created the biggest advantage in Major League Soccer over the past two seasons.
Since 2017, the Crew (2-1-1, 7 pts.) have earned 86 points at home, the most of any club in the League, while holding a 1-0-1 home record this season.
Last hosting FC Dallas on March 16 en route to a 1-0 win, Saturday’s match against the defending MLS Cup champions is a good litmus test for the team as the Black & Gold look to rebound from Saturday's result at Philadelphia.
“I remember every loss,” said head coach Caleb Porter after training on Tuesday. “I never like them, but I have learned that they are really important times to improve and grow. I end up enjoying, in a weird way, that process in weeks like this because I know that it is an opportunity for us to get better if we handle it the right way, which we will. Win, lose, or draw, we have to reflect, we have to correct, we have to prepare again, and then we will have a test again at the end of the week.”
Returning home to face the best team in the League last season, Saturday's match certainly won't lack energy and intensity.
“The guys are excited to play the MLS Cup Champions," Porter said. "And so, what a great opportunity to bounce back and respond from the disappointment and to show that that wasn’t us and that we can be better and beat the MLS Cup Champions. I think the guys are certainly ready to make it right this weekend.”
Heading into Saturday, Crew SC is one of six MLS teams to concede one or fewer goals at home this season, while Atlanta (0-1-2, 2 pts.) has yet to score - or win - on the road. In prepping for Atlanta, which hosts a parody of talent across the roster, Porter said Crew SC must remain vigilant in its ability to adapt to Atlanta’s system.
“I think that’s a challenge for sure,” Porter said. “They have played a number of different systems. It’s a little bit difficult to know for sure what system that they are going to play. We are looking at that and evaluating that. We will be prepared for a number of different systems and shapes."
Though Atlanta's style on Saturday may vary, Porter noted, the system remains the same, with disrupting their ability to stay on the ball coming to the forefront.
“Their style stays the same for the most part, regardless of the shape that they want to play. They want to keep the ball. And they are a tactical team with the ball. So, we want to manage their ability to keep the ball and obviously that is going to be a key to the game.”
Midfielder Federico Higuain reflected that need to be able to adapt on the fly.
“[Opponents] can prepare any way, but in the game, we have to be ready to read the changes,” Higuain said. “Once you get on the field, you have to read to opponent, you have to read the next play, you have to read if it is the right moment to press or drop or slide or make a counter attack or keep the ball. Opponents prepare for the game in some way and then they change it. We have to be ready to change at the same time.”
Higuain, who labeled Saturday’s match as a good test of where the Club stands early in the season, expects the most out of himself and the team, week-in and week-out.
“This is football. You have to be strong. You have to understand that you are not doing good in some phases of the game [while] we are doing really good in other faces of the game. We have to keep doing what we are doing good and we have to improve what we are not doing good. You can talk a lot about football, but it’s not a very complex game. If you be honest with yourself…you take that challenge to be a better player to try to give everything that you have.”
Kickoff against Atlanta is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET on March 30 at MAPFRE Stadium. Supporters can watch the match on SportsTime Ohio, stream on the FOX Sports GO app, or listen to the English audio on ESPN Columbus 1460 AM or the Spanish Audio on ColumbusCrewSC.com.