Pack your bags, we’re headed to Columbus, Ohio.
All of the pieces were in place for a do-or-die match on election night. Atlanta United hosted the Columbus Crew in front of 41,850 screaming fans and now live to fight another day of Major League Soccer playoff soccer. United’s 4-2 victory assured them an opportunity to play Columbus for a third time in two weeks. Game three of the series will take place Sunday, Nov. 12.
Even though Atanta managed to score four goals and dominate this match, particularly during the second half, Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda believes how they play this weekend will ultimately tell the tale.
“The goals and connections with the fans, all that is good, but if we don’t win on Sunday it’s nothing,” Pineda said during the postgame press conference. “So we need to make sure we know that and show on Sunday what we are capable of.”
Atlanta United came into Tuesday’s match against the Columbus Crew with their backs against a hypothetical wall following a 2-0 loss in the first of what they hoped would be a best-of-three first round playoff series. On Top of that, United had an all-time record of 5-7-3 against Columbus with just two of those matches having been won in Atlanta. The last time the teams met at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 7, the match resulted in a 1-1 draw.
If the home team were to extend its 2023 season and force a third game at Lower.com Field on Sunday, Nov. 12, they would have to win. A draw wouldn’t cut it tonight.
One of the differences between the first two matches would be one of the league’s favorites for this season’s Most Valuable Player award, Thiago Almada, was on the pitch. He didn’t play in game one due to a red card he sustained in the previous match, but he was on the pitch Tuesday night.
There’s also the added bonus of having Major League Soccer’s 2023 Newcomer of the Year Giorgos Giakoumakis on the pitch for United. With a team-high 17 goals, the 28-year-old Greek forward had a coupe of opportunities to add to that total early in the match, but only managed to earn a yellow in the 18th minute after delaying the match. It took 38 minutes for Giakoumakis to find the back of the net, heading in a pass from Brooks Lennon (his 11th assists of the season) that gave United a 1-0 advantage. Then the floodgates opened just before halftime.
Columbus’ Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez would even things up with a strike in the 45th minute, slipping a ball under the outstretched arms of United goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Then United forward Xande Silva would give Atlanta the lead back on a goal off of a Giakoumakis assist. The play doesn’t happen without a bit of brilliance from Saba Lobjanidze, who corralled a long pass, turned his defender and found Giakoumakis who found Silva.
After the match Pineda commented on the play that seemed to shift the momentum of the match.
“That was a very good goal for many different reasons,” Pineda said. “In those quick moments of break, we talk about changing the pace and making good passes and having good combinations.”
Silva nearly scored his second goal of the match in the 61st minute before missing a point blank shot in front of the Columbus net. Giakoumakis quickly ran over to Silva, who had his hands over his head in bewilderment, and ushered him back away from the goal. While they ran back to the center of the pitch Giakoumakis urged the crowd to cheer on Silva in support.
Edwin Mosquera would bring the crowd to its feet with a goal that not only put United ahead 3-1, but also secured the victory in the 83rd minute. Minutes later Almada would officially seal the deal with his 12th goal of the season on a run in the 88th minute.