Following a defeat Tuesday night, the Columbus Crew will return to Lower.com Field on Sunday night in a must-win match against Atlanta United FC to advance in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.
After a dominating 2-0 win in the opener of this three-game series, Columbus was unable to claim the series sweep in Atlanta, as the Five Stripes won, 4-2, inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Don't get me wrong, obviously Atlanta had also many opportunities or a few opportunities, I don’t know, but we had opportunities to come back, but the extra pass or the extra touch, we had a lack of the fluidity,” head coach Wilfried Nancy said. “Usually, when we take the speed, we are able to keep the time edge, but we didn't play in the tempo at certain moments. It was a game like this. After that, yeah, four goals, but I believe this is the first time since the beginning of the year that we concede a few like this.”
The home side took the lead in the 38th minute through a powerful Giorgos Giakoumakis header. The Crew responded well, however, when they scored seven minutes later.
Cucho provided the equalizer in the 45th minute that culminated a spirited counter attack. Playing with a high press, the visitors won the ball in a dangerous position, and from there, Diego Rossi played a pass toward Cucho. The Colombian took a touch around Miles Robinson and unleashed a strike to the bottom left corner.
Cucho now has 13 goals in his last 10 Crew matches across all competitions.
Atlanta regained the lead four minutes later through Xande Silva. From there, the Crew continued creating chances, but the deficit doubled in the 83rd minute from Edwin Mosquera. Thiago Almada scored a fourth goal three minutes later.
The Crew was able a add a second goal in second-half stoppage time when MLS SuperDraft pick Max Arfsten’s 95th-minute volley trimmed the deficit. The goal was Arfsten’s first in the postseason and third across all competitions in 2023.
Nancy said there’s no time to dwell on the loss, though, as a pivotal match awaits on Sunday night.
“Listen, it’s 1-1 [in the series], and the idea is to see what we need to improve and what we need to do better knowing that we did good stuff because this is not easy to play here, as you know, against a good team and really good players also,” he said. “We are going to analyze everything and we'll be ready in a few days.”
With the series level, the decisive third match will be Sunday night at Lower.com Field. There, a Crew win would advance the club to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against No. 2 Orlando City SC. Orlando advanced past No. 7 Nashville SC, solidifying the winner of Sunday’s game will play its next match on the road in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“Listen, the idea all the time is to be confident and humble so we are going to stay the same,” Nancy said. “We know that when we play here, the idea was the same. Now, we know that we’re going to play at home, the fans are going to be behind us and it's going to be an emotional game. We know that, but at the same time, we love to play at home, but we know that it won't be easy. We’re going to try to take advantage of that.”
CLAIM YOUR SPOT FOR PLAYOFFS!
Secure your seat today and be ready to defend our home once more in the final contest of the three-match series.