Crew Coverage

Crew Coverage pres. by Medical Mutual | Nancy: Crew earn ‘good win’ against Atlanta United

When the Columbus Crew celebrated Crewsmas in 2023, a tifo hanging above The Nordecke told Black & Gold players to embrace la Créwvolution – the era that head coach Wilfried Nancy would usher in as the Club’s new head coach.

As for the 2024 Crewsmas tifo message, it was a little more straightforward: “Let’s run it back.”

That’s easier said than done, of course, but the Crew look up for the challenge.

On a day that felt designed for distractions, the Columbus Crew blocked out the noise and produced an impressive 1-0 win that dampened Eastern Conference juggernaut Atlanta United FC.

Amidst the festivities that come with Crewsmas and an MLS Cup ring ceremony at Field, the Black & Gold were unbothered by the moment and, as Nancy always says, stuck to their task.

Within five minutes of receiving their beautiful 2023 MLS Cup rings and seeing a banner unveiled, the Crew battered the Atlanta backline and set the tone for how the reigning champs will fight to run it back.

“We had the ring ceremony, but I told them to enjoy this moment because they deserve it,” Nancy said. “But at the same time to do the switch and to start right away.”

They did. From the opening whistle, Columbus pinned Atlanta deep in its own half. Creative chances came in bunches, and the matchup that pinned the two most prolific 2023 attacks together seemed very one sided to begin 2024.

The game winner arrived in the 27th minute through a lovely team goal. Controlling the ball on the right side of the pitch, Sean Zawadzki saw Yaw Yeboah was open on the opposite touchline and played a cross-field ball to the Ghanian. Yeboah then dribbled down the left flank and hit a cross toward the box. Diego Rossi was able to get a shot off, but Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan parried it presumably away to the back post. However, Cucho, who started the play next to Zawadzki, made an unmarked run and was able to comfortably blast the ball into the net.

“It was a special goal to open our scoring in the 2024 season, it’s special,” Cucho said afterward. “It was important because we won. A new season started, and I am very grateful.”

It appears the Colombian’s prolific scoring rate carried into the new campaign. Since Sept. 12, Cucho has 16 goals in his last 15 Columbus appearances across all competitions.

The true test arrived in the second half. Adversity came quickly.

First, Mohamed Farsi earned a penalty three minutes into the half via a breakaway, but he suffered an ankle injury and couldn’t continue. Cucho stepped up to double the lead, but his attempt was saved by Guzan.

Atlanta, a team that began its preseason two weeks before the Crew, started building momentum.

“They did a really good first half,” Nancy said of his players. “We could have scored more goals. After that, the second half was a bit different. We had less of the ball, but I really like to see my players with good resilience and the persistence to try to keep the clean sheet. The way we defended the box also was good. Yes, we could have scored more goals, but for the first game at home with a lot of pressure, this is a good win.”

Atlanta nearly equalized in the 71st minute through Giorgios Giakoumakis, but Patrick Schulte palmed the ball away with a fine stop from point-blank range. Thiago Almada also had an opportunity in the 89th minute, but his curling shot was headed to safety by Malte Amundsen.

“This is the first time that we win 1-0 so this is good,” Nancy said. “I like to score goals, but also, like I said last year, I like also to defend well. Atlanta, as you know, this is not an easy team to play. They are really good, but we deserve to win because we had many chances and also were able to defend well.”

It’s fair to hold the reigning champs to high expectations. That’s the same standard that the Crew players and coaches expect, too. But it shouldn’t be downplayed that Atlanta will be a legit Eastern Conference contender, and the Black & Gold kept the Five Stripes silent. That the strong win came on the afternoon of the ring ceremony was the icing on the cake.

“It's been a good moment,” Nancy said of the ring ceremony and Crewsmas. “I'm going to be honest, I do also this job for that. I like to say, life is not about minutes, time and so on; this is about moments. It was the moment to enjoy that because I don't know… Hopefully, we're going to be able to win again this year, but for the moment, it was really good to enjoy this moment.”

It’s early, but it feels like Crew supporters will have plenty of moments to enjoy in 2024.

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