Playoff matchday in Atlanta, RSL survives, & more: Starting Lineup, November 7
by Jason Longshore
1- It's a playoff matchday in Atlanta as the 5 Stripes must win tonight to force Game 3 on Sunday in Columbus. Thiago Almada is back from suspension for his red card against Cincinnati on Decision Day and the challenge will be big to beat a Columbus team that has been outstanding this year.
2- The challenge is also immense to beat a Columbus team that has thrived at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one of the few who can claim that. The last time Atlanta beat Columbus at home was 2018. It's been five straight matches since without a loss for the Crew at the Benz. However, a draw tonight in regulation would take the match to penalties and give Atlanta a chance to win a penalty shootout to force Game 3.
3- Getting Almada back and being at home means a likely shift back to the shape the team has played in primarily since the Leagues Cup. Edwin Mosquera will be in the mix to start on the wing, as will Jay Fortune in the midfield, but it's likely that we'll see the starting lineup that was chosen primarily to finish the season.
4- Keep these stats in mind at the Benz, and I think they're very important tonight. When Atlanta United scores two goals at home, they are 57-1-11. That one loss was to Minnesota in 2017. Getting the attack firing, especially early, is a huge key tonight. Two goals has been the magic number at home. With a third goal, Atlanta is 36-0-4 at home in their history.
5- Another stat to keep in mind, Columbus gives up 73% of their goals in the second half. Atlanta scores 61% of their goals in the second half. The 5 Stripes want to and need to start fast tonight, but they have been a strong team late in matches. The Crews' goal differential in the last 15 minutes of games is -5 while Atlanta's is +10.
6- Of course, all eyes will be on a fresh Thiago Almada for this one. While this is his first MLS playoff match, Almada is a young player who has been in pressure-filled positions throughout his career at Velez Sarsfield. His movement will be essential tonight as the Crew will try to deny him space as often as possible. When I asked him about that challenge yesterday after the team's training session, he talked about how he might have to get wider at times to go find that space to get on the ball and pull Columbus' defensive structure apart.
7- This is a match where the atmosphere can play a factor. Gonzalo Pineda said he wants his team to come out and play in a way to inspire the fans to be loud and enjoy themselves. It's a give and take for sure, but in those moments where the team is catching its breath or trying to get control of the match back against a great team in Columbus, those are moments where the crowd can will them on. The internal motivation is of course high in moments like this one, but every player feeds on that little bit extra from the stands.
8- In other news, UGA learned that they will host their first round match in the NCAA tournament after winning the SEC Tournament for the first time on Sunday. The Liberty Flames will head to Athens this weekend. Emory's men will host a pod for the NCAA Division 3 tournament, and Oglethorpe will join them as the SAA Tournament winners. If both teams advance past the first round, they would meet with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line on Sunday. Emory's women will have to go on the road for their first round NCAA Tournament match.
9- Real Salt Lake survived via the penalty shootout last night to force a game 3 back in Houston. Jefferson Savarino's 70th minute free kick golazo canceled out Amine Bassi's first half opener where his penalty was saved but he converted on the rebound. Bassi's first round attempt in the shootout was saved when he tried to go down the middle and Zac MacMath held his ground. Every other attempt was converted and Diego Luna roofed his fifth round shot to win it for RSL.
10- On this day in 2021, Atlanta United was pretty much assured of a playoff spot on Decision Day but they went on to defeat FC Cincinnati anyway 2-1 in a comeback victory. Miles Robinson and Josef Martinez scored in the win for Atlanta.
11- On this day in 1987, 16-year old Tiffany went to #1 with "I Think We're Alone Now". Don't forget that your Song of the Day is a cover song, it was originally released in 1967 by Tommy James and the Shondells. Also, enjoy the flashbacks to malls of the 1980's in the video.