Expansion Atlanta aims to rebound vs. Crew (Jul 01, 2017)
Atlanta United did not field the best lineup for a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday.
That will change when the expansion team makes its first visit to Mapfre Stadium on Saturday to face Columbus Crew SC.
Atlanta United lost 3-2 to second division Miami FC in a Round of 16 match with a roster of largely unproven players.
"The eight core players that were left behind in Atlanta (for the Open Cup) will be back this weekend," United coach Tata Martino told MLSsoccer.com. "We now need to focus on MLS and qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs. We need to get better results on the road if we want to have better opportunities in the standings."
Atlanta (7-7-3) holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a point behind the Crew (8-9-1) with a game in hand. Atlanta is 2-5-3 on the road, where it has lost its past three.
United defeated the visiting Crew 3-1 on June 17 and will have the services of rested stars Miguel Almiron (eight goals, six assists), Josef Martinez (seven goals in seven games), Hector Villalba (six goals, four assists) and Yamil Asad (two goals, nine assists) for the rematch.
"It's tough anytime you're playing against a guy like Almiron," Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. "Then you add Villalba and Martinez and Asad. They're fliers. Their strength is offensive transition. We're aware of that."
In the first meeting, Villalba gave Atlanta the lead in the 16th minute before Federico Higuain equalized 10 minutes later. Almiron scored in the 67th and Martinez in the 88th.
"We were successful in the first half penetrating behind them and we had a lot of chances," Crew forward Justin Meram said. "We limited their chances. We kept Almiron quiet.
"In the second half, tired legs for everybody opened up the game a little bit. They got a half chance and that's how game one went."
Columbus can match Atlanta's firepower. Higuain and Ola Kamara each have nine goals, one more than Meram. Higuain has five goals during a four-game scoring streak.
"We know our quality," Meram said. "We know what we can do against them. We know how we can be dangerous."
The Crew will have defenders Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful back from national team duties with Ghana. Midfielder Mohammed Abu remains with the Ghana side for its friendly against the United States on Saturday.